Just let me say: I've always been skeptical of the value candidates' releasing their tax returns, a practice that became standard fairly late in the history of our republic. We are certainly entitled to know if a candidate is honest, but tax returns don't show that.   

Fragments of Donald Trump's tax records are out and for starters they seem to indicate two things: that at least once at one point in his career Trump failed spectacularly, to the tune of about a billion dollars, and secondly, that because of this failure he was legally entitled not to pay taxes because of the loss for perhaps eighteen years. It is highly unlikely that Trump paid taxes he wasn't obligated to pay.

This was an opportunity for Trump to make the case for American capitalism, which is great because men and women who fail stunningly often learn from their falls and rise from the ashes, and for comprehensive tax reform (the revealed returns pushed progressives towards seeming and vocally embracing elements of conservative tax reform), but unfortunately that's not the tact he appears to be taking and will thus leave us to fear that he might spend another week tweeting about a former Miss Universe.

Almost as if she uncannily expected that Trump's partial tax returns would be revealed by the New York Times (which also didn't pay taxes at least one year we know of), Hillary Clinton taunted Trump during the debate that he hadn't paid federal taxes for years. Trump responded that, if so, "that makes me smart." Egregiously stupid reply. If Trump didn't pay taxes for eighteen years, it is not because he is smart, it is because he had a business failure and he (or more likely his lawyers) knew that the tax code provides, as it should, until it is overhauled and simplified, for such losses.

In his reply, Trump–stupidly–handed Mrs. Clinton a brilliant retort, "If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make the rest of us?" Demagogic but unanswerable. Perhaps if Trump had released his tax returns earlier, some are arguing, better explanations could have been made. But I am not sure: the press goes light on the tax returns of Democrats (socialist Bernie Sanders didn't fork over tax payments at quite the rate he wants the rest of us to), but the returns of Republicans are used to stoke envy.

As a front-page story in this morning's Wall Street Journal notes, Trump's apparent treatment of apparent losses (given the campaign's reply, we have every reason to believe that what the Times got was correct), serves to "sharpen the focus on treatment of losses" in the tax code. Trump, unfortunately, can't say this without injecting his ego:

Parts of Mr. Trump’s state tax documents from 1995, published over the weekend by the New York Times , show that the Republican presidential nominee reported a $916 million loss on that year’s tax return. That would allow him to legally soak up years of future income, earned through his television appearances and his hotel and golf-course operations, without paying any federal income taxes.

Mr. Trump, in response, early Sunday argued on Twitter he knows “our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them.” Some of his supporters said on TV the disclosure proved Mr. Trump was an astute businessman, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani calling him “an absolute genius” for his use of the tax code.

The Wall Street Journal story goes on:

The big loss revealed in the filing blurs Mr. Trump’s campaign image as a successful New York real-estate developer. The documents also highlight the gulf between Mr. Trump and voters who have taxes withheld from their wages with little opportunity to alter the timing of their income or hire lawyers and accountants to seek the best possible outcome.

Part of being successful is getting up after a failure. And it would also be a good time to talk about how too much is withheld from the wages of ordinary people, law-abiding people who aren't entrepreneurs, but make capitalism work by having a work ethic.

And now back to Miss Machado . . .