Staying true to form during the last presidential debate, Donald Trump inferred that all smart business people find loopholes to avoid paying federal taxes, including Warren Buffett.
I tried to come up with a plausible explanation for why Trump thought his comment on Buffett would go unchallenged. Then, the obvious hit me. He doesn’t care. It’s his words against Warren’s words. Trump’s thinking has the quality of Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber” — “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
As Time Magazine pointed out, “There is simply too much information for the public to accurately metabolize, which means that distortions — and outright falsehoods — are almost inevitable.” Magnifying the problem, “Mainstream journalists are no longer trusted as gatekeepers to verify the stories that are true and kill the rumors that are false.”
Enter Warren himself.
He crafted the following response.
Some Tax Facts for Donald Trump
Answering a question last night about this $916 million income tax loss carryforward in 1995, Donald Trump stated that “Warren Buffett took a massive deduction.” Mr. Trump says he knows more about taxes than any other human. He has not seen my income tax returns. But I am happy to give him the facts.
My 2015 return shows adjusted gross income of $11,563,931. My deductions totaled $5,477,694, of which allowable charitable contributions were $3,469,179. All but $36,037 of the remainder was for state income taxes.
The total charitable contributions I made during the year were $2,858,057,970 of which more than $2.85 billion were not taken as deductions and never will be. Tax law properly limits charitable deductions.
My federal income tax for the year was $1,845,557. Returns for previous years are of a similar nature in respect to contributions, deductions and tax rates.
I have paid federal income tax every year since 1944, when I was 13. (Though, being a slow starter, I owed only $7 in tax that year.) I have copies of all 72 of my returns and none used a carryforward.
Finally, I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited. I have no problem in releasing my tax information while under audit. Neither would Mr. Trump — at least he would have no legal problem.
The Buffett treatise offers five lessons that can be applied to business communications when counterpunching a competitor:
- Don’t Get Mad:
Nothing good ever comes from acting on “Hell hath no fury like a billionaire scorned.” Buffet’s clinical language — “Some Tax Facts for Donald Trump” (Is that the perfect headline or what?) — is particularly effective in playing off Trump’s shoot-from-the-thigh behavior. He sets the tone at the outset: “Mr. Trump says he knows more about taxes than any other human. He has not seen my income tax returns. But I am happy to give him the facts.”
It’s easy to use this “wrong” as a springboard to exploit every sign of weakness in a competitor. This isn’t the time for a cathartic experience. While Buffett might be repulsed by Trump’s beliefs on the economy, healthcare and hair restoration, he focuses on the topic at hand.
- Minimize Use of Adjectives and Adverbs:
Again, this relates to Buffett’s academic-like response. It comes across as more persuasive. If anything, boastful adjectives can cause an audience to turn up its baloney detector.
- The Details Matter:
Why doesn’t Buffett round off the numbers? The level of detail in the numbers delivers realness to his point of view.
- Storytelling Brings Out Humanity:
More than pepper us with numbers and facts, Buffett shares the back story that he’s been paying taxes since he was 13 when he coughed up a grand total of $7 in 1944. The levity allows Buffett, one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet, to come across as one of us.
Buffett doesn’t tell us Trump is wrong.
He shows us Trump is wrong.
As noted in previous posts, if Buffett were willing to take a pay cut, he’d be terrific in a business communications role. For more on Warren, master storyteller, check out “Warren Buffett’s Storytelling Transforms Shareholders Letter into Branding Event” and “Executives Struggle with One of the Most Effective Storytelling Techniques.”