Tax season has always been a time of ambiguity, a season of duty-bound disgruntlement or grumpy performance for payoff. There have been the years of side-eyed denial, waiting until the last minute to dash off a check, stained with irritation. And there have been the early filings, the winter thrill in the refund years.
I have activist friends who, in an effort to starve the war machine, have refused to pay their taxes. It’s certainly been tough to justify the extent to which our tax dollars fund the bloated military-industrial complex. I’ve been tempted, especially before my full-blown responsible adult chapter, to stick it to the man and refuse to pay my taxes.
But I am, at heart, not a rabble rouser. I’m a pleaser, I generally follow the rules. I behave and hope for the best. So, every year since my first paycheck, I’ve filed taxes. I’ve stoically suffered the negative years and used the positive returns to pay off debt, repair broken things, or buy some fun. Like everyone else.
Or, almost everyone else.
Our president, Donald Trump, says that not paying taxes “makes me smart.” He still refuses to release his tax returns which, while hardly the worst of his egregious offenses to date, does give the average tax-paying workaday Jack and Jill pause. The tax code is a headache-inducing, byzantine mess that eats up a daunting amount of time and often ends up making daily life even harder for normal, hard-working folks. And yet, we trudge through the trial each April and, if Uncle Sam holds out his hand and says, “pay up,” most of us do.
Most of us.
Tax dollars support all kinds of wonderful things. Social services and medical research, arts funding and education. These are among the reasons I have not joined my rebellious compatriots in tax evasion — I benefit from society and I will contribute. But we have this president (and it’s all I can do to not put quotes around that word) who is not only cagey and evasive about his own tax contributions, but has made it clear that he’d like to cut the very things that make it feel possibly noble to play this complicated tax game. If he gets his way, he will cut Meals on Wheels and the NIH, the NEA, and Education Department funding. He will slash the arts, the sciences, and services for the poor. The EPA and the Agriculture Department will receive body blows and 19 agencies will have their funding entirely eliminated. Agencies with words like development, safety, museum, and peace in their names.
Where, then, will our tax dollars go? Defense — where else. More war toys, more bully noise on the global playground, more fearmongering and saber rattling. This unsavory, unfortunate, all-too-familiar reality coupled with the suggestion that it may “make us smart” to avoid the payment of taxes definitely makes it even more distasteful to gather up all that paperwork and jump through all those mathy hoops in the service of our patriotic duty.
If our commander-in-chief, our Dear Leader, the big cheese, can’t be bothered to contribute fairly, why should we? What motivation is there at this juncture in American history to take part in this annual accounting? Are we at a critical moment of tax fatigue, in a taxing national mood? Isn’t it about time for some tax reform?
I vote yes, but then votes don’t seem to have the currency they should. I only hope that it’s a long game and that continuing to play is the way to progress, but signs from the current administration are — surprise! — not hopeful. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Trump’s plan would give the richest people the biggest tax cuts of any income group. In other words, current proposed tax reform benefits him. And his friends. Certainly not me and probably not you.
What to do in this most taxing climate? For my part, I’ll file. I’ll pay. I behave, remember? But I’m also watching House and Senate races with renewed interest, reading more political and financial news than ever before, and educating myself for the 2018 elections. Who are your representatives and where do they stand on tax reform? Familiarize yourself with their views and track their votes. How well do you understand tax policy? I don’t, at all, but I’m trying. I’m learning.
The days of blithe disinterest and blind trust are over. We must pay attention, we must reach for fairness and accountability — for everyone. Not just Donald J. Trump and his billionaire cronies.