He breaks every rule in the book: Last night, we were puzzled by the role of the Alternative Minimum Tax in the calculation of Donald J. Trump's federal taxes for 2005.
Never mind why we say that. We were also puzzled by David Cay Johnston's extended trip into the realm of TMI.
At 9:22 last night, Rachel Maddow gave us two tiny bits of information from the 1040 cover sheet Johnston had scored. In 2005, Trump's federal taxes were $38 million on $150 million in income.
She asked Johnston if the two numbers "seemed right." At that point, Johnston began to emit a bit too much information:
MADDOW (3/14/17): Do these numbers seem right to you? Obviously, the White House statement to us is reiterating the $150 million income number and the $38 million paid number.Say what? There are lots of college professors his age (68) who have $900,000 in municipal bonds? To Johnston, that counts as "not much?"
Those numbers seem right to you?
JOHNSTON: Yes. And they fit the things we know from other public records about how Donald does business. For example, the dividends that he gets are primarily not what are called qualified dividends. That suggests they come from, not big companies like ExxonMobil, but privately held enterprises.
They show almost no tax-exempt interest, about $49,000. That would imply, at the time, maybe $900,000 of municipal bonds.
Not much. I mean, there are lots of college professors out there my age who have $900,000 in municipal bonds.
To us, that seemed like BREAKING NEWS, especially after watching Hayes and Sanders in West Virginia coal country. Did you watch that show the night before? The show with the retired coal miners?
Was Johnston revealing a bit of a societal secret about our routinely unhelpful professors? We aren't sure, but as he continued, Johnston moved even more strangely into the realm of TMI—and he broke an obvious rule:
JOHNSTON (continuing directly): What's most important about this tax return, though, Rachel, is that under the regular tax system, when we have two tax systems— Well-to-do people, you and I, file, effectively calculate our tax twice, the regular tax system and the alternative minimum tax. If we didn't have the alternative minimum tax—and Donald Trump in writing wants to end the alternative minimum tax—he would have paid taxes at a lower rate than the bottom half of taxpayers, the poor in this country who make less than $33,000.Johnston and his wife make $400,000 per year? On the one hand, he contrasted that income with Trump's much larger income.
Now think about that! $153 million almost of income, he would have paid a little over $5 million, less than 3.5 percent, less than the half of taxpayers who make under $33,000. As it is, because of the alternative minimum tax, he paid $36.5 million, not the $38 million the White House statement says. They're counting his self-employment tax, which is payroll taxes.
JOHNSTON: Thirty-six and a half million, he paid 24 percent. You know who pays 24 percent in this country? Married couples with two incomes, like my wife and I, who make about $400,000 a year. Donald Trump and his wife that year made $418,000 a day.
On the other hand, he lumped himself in with Maddow as "well-to-do people, you and I." In doing so, he was breaking every known rule of corporate liberal behavior.
Do Johnston and his wife make $400,000 per year? Presumably—but the last time we saw a report, it was estimated that Maddow was being paid $7 million per year by her corporate owners. And that was three or four years ago. Presumably, if that figure was right, her haul today may be substantially larger.
What rule of decorum did Johnston break? Simple! Within the world of "corporate liberal" cable news, you aren't supposed to encourage viewers to think about matters like this. Maddow is supposed to be one of our "MSNBC friends." It's a term that she and Brian Williams have used in recent weeks.
We're supposed to think of "Rache" as one of our MSNBC friends. We aren't supposed to think of her as what she is—as a massively overpaid corporate employee.
We used to say it all the time—you can't run a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps. When the pay-outs are that large, you're encouraging the kind of behavior Maddow has increasingly displayed in the past several years.
As a general matter, people will do whatever it takes to retain "good jobs" of that type. Johnston tattled on college professors, then got way out over his skis with his remarks about Maddow.
Maddow changed the subject at this point. Might we ask one last question?
We dream of seeing a survey in which liberals are asked how much they think people like Maddow are paid. We'd love to see what people think. We suspect that most good, decent liberal leaners don't have the slightest idea.
In that regard, here's our question:
What happens to our beloved "transparency" in corporate realms like this? Maddow is eager to sift through Donald J. Trump's financial records. When will this overpaid corporate clown open the books about hers?
Back to West Virginia: On Hayes' Monday night program with Sanders, we saw people explaining what it's like to struggle in coal country.
We're so old that we can remember when Maddow spent a week and a half dropping nightly dick jokes on those strugging peoples' heads. Everyone knows that we're secretly like that.
It's one of the ways we lose elections. Everyone knows except Us.