September 30, 2020

Understand more. Argue less.

This edition of Civil was written by three people who are tired of news in its current form. Nathan tends to lean right, while Liam tends to lean left. Max is your editor.

Together, we're giving you perspectives from both sides in a single place. 


Taxation Investigation

Katherine Chuang

The most infamous tax returns of the 21st century have come out…. sort of. Pointing to an IRS audit that began in the early 2000s, Trump has (until now) stymied the release of his tax returns. Earlier this week, The New York Times obtained Trump’s tax info and reported that in 10 of the past 15 years, he paid no income tax. In 2016 and 2017, the NYT found that he paid $750.

In the first Presidential debate last night, when asked how much he paid during those years, Trump said, "Millions."

We want to highlight that this isn’t illegal. Like any other American, Trump is entitled to use the tax code to minimize how much he pays Uncle Sam.


  • Is this normal? 2018 tax analysis from Cal Berkely found American billionaires paid 23% of their income in taxes. The average person shelled out 28%. (BI)

  • Rolling in the deep. The NYT reported that Trump paid $5M to the IRS before taking out deductions in 2016/2017, the remainder of which will roll over to future tax returns. Trump also declared losses of $916M, providing deductions that could waive him of liability for almost two decades.

  • The theory of relativity. Depending on the state, an average American could pay up to $19k (NJ) or as little as $6k (WV). Joe Biden paid $92k in federal taxes in 2016 and $3.7M in 2017.

  • Appreciating depreciation. Real estate investors can write off 4% of a property's purchase value each year as depreciation, allowing Trump to report massive losses and significantly reduce his income tax. (Bloomberg)


Narrative Overview


Here are the narratives our team has identified and the headlines that support them. These headlines are not necessarily false, but they do support the biased narrative from each side.

Narrative from the Left

He's broke, lives in our house, and has been stealing from us. How can he say he’ll fix our economy when he can’t even fix his own finances? Our system is broken; minimum-wage high schoolers pay more in taxes than Trump.

Supporting Coverage

What We Learned from Trump Tax Report: $750, Huge Losses and More

Biden Paid Over 4,900 Times More in Taxes Than Trump in 2017

The Trump Tax Scandal is an Indictment of the President — And The System

Trump’s Tax Revelation Could Tarnish Image That Fueled Rise

Narrative from the Right

He doesn't like taxes just like everyone else, big deal. Do you think the Coastal Elites aren’t doing the exact same thing? It’s brilliant that he was able to work the tax code like this, and that type of savvy is why he should be in charge. 

Supporting Coverage

Trump says he may release ‘impressive’ financial records after NY Times report

New York Times’ Trump Tax Return ‘Bombshell’ Is A Joke

Trump Jr. Slams NY Times — ‘People Don’t Understand What Goes into a Business’

Trump’s Reported Tax Methods Par For The Course For The Rich, Experts Say

Bottom Line

We feel like a broken record, but it’s another week and another fiercely partisan story dominating headlines. The Left and the Right are doing their best to spin it, and here’s how your perception could be altered:

  • If your news outlets are pushing the Right’s narrative, you may not see a problem with Trump’s actions. You’ll point out that he never technically broke the law, and this is a very cunning business move. Taxes are not a voluntary contribution, and he shouldn’t have to pay more than he needs to.

  • If your news outlets are pushing the Left’s narrative, you may be more likely to find this egregious. You’ll see this as a prime example of another wealthy elite finding tax loopholes and this whole situation as unfair because you probably pay more in taxes than Trump has.

During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump ran on immigration, the economy, and ultimately, giving a voice to Americans that felt forgotten by Washington. He frequently pointed to his business acumen as an indicator that he would be a good president. It worked in 2016, but now some are raising questions about his success.

Trump is still polling better than Biden on the economy, and it’s hard to see his base choosing to hop on the Biden train this late in the race. It’s especially hard to see his supporters trusting a liberal news outlet to interpret complex tax and financial documents for them. However, the NYT report may cause undecided middle-class voters to re-evaluate if he’s really what he says he is, and question whether it’s fair to use wealth to preserve wealth.


It's Not All Bias 

Sadly, with this story, it was. We spent extensive time trying to find examples of transparency from the Left and the Right. We were unable to find any due to there only being a single primary source (NYT). This is exactly what we’re trying to highlight. It’s unfortunate (an understatement) that our news outlets are so ideologically biased and refuse to defect from their side, especially this close to a hugly important election. 

Last Week's Winner

Congratulations to our winner from last week: Matt C. from Michigan. We'll be in touch about your $25 Amazon gift card! Matt's submission:

  • Because of Civil, I’m actually going to attend a local gathering of Republicans, for whom I have great respect, who also appear to be buying into some of Qanon's conspiracy theories. A month ago, I would have just written them off. Now I want to better understand how kind, thoughtful, rationale people have come to believe what I consider dangerous nonsense. I have no plans to debate with them, but merely to listen.

Civility Scavenger Hunt

If you've found examples of civility in your life, let us know! Here's what your submission could look like:

  • A short story about a civil conversation you've had recently.What was it like? How did you avoid a shouting match?
  • A resource that's widened your perspective and helped you be more civil. This could be a movie, book, app, etc.
  • A prominent figure that you think personifies civility. What can we learn from them?

Shoot us an email with your response and we might feature you next week!

Want to Learn More About Our Bias Ratings?

Our bias ratings are generated by AllSides, which they establish using input from thousands of users and a bipartisan review board.

Until next Wednesday, that's all from us. Thank you!

P.S. How'd you like our new color scheme? It's still a work in progress, so please let us know what you think.