It's been sign-posted like a station that offers the Last Gas for 200 Miles, Seriously, You're Headed into the Desert of Demagoguery, America, Stop the Car! It's not at all a surprising twist; it turns out that Donald Trump's business success, the cornerstone upon which he has built his political and personal identity, may amount to not much more than a series of loans and bailouts from his dad, boatloads of braggadocio and a declaration, in 1995, of a loss close to $1-billion U.S.
According to The New York Times, which broke the story after copies of Mr. Trump's tax records were posted to it, this loss (much of which may have been debt forgiven as a result of bankruptcy, so not actually his loss) would have entitled Mr. Trump to, legally, pay no federal tax for the next 18 years.
Mr. Trump's reaction, echoed by various surrogates was that this (if he did it) would make Donald a financial wizard. He is the Dumbledore of deductions, they'd have us believe, the Merlin of net operating losses.
Although his accountant at the time, Jack Mitnick, reports that Mr Trump showed no interest in the finer (or coarser) details of his own taxes or the tax code in general.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani called Mr. Trump "an absolute genius" for possibly not paying taxes, but those with their heads in other places might instead see a failed developer who merely benefited from a since-closed loophole his accountant was professionally obliged to use.
If using that tax loophole makes Donald Trump a financial "genius," my mechanic changing my brake-pads makes me Alberto Ascari.
Pressed on the issue on CNN this week, Mr. Trump's eldest son, Eric, looking prosperous, pale and peevish (Eric Trump is the guy who loses the girl at the end of every teen comedy) claimed that word from his dad is that "when the audits are over he will release the taxes."
Mr. Trump can't possibly do it now, we've been told, on account of that entirely non-existent law that says one can't release one's taxes if one claims one is being audited.
That is, of course, unless Hillary Clinton releases transcripts of the speeches she has been paid to give, in which case, that law vanishes. Or so Eric Trump seems to believe because, when she does that – massive double-dare deflection in progress – his dad will totally release his tax returns.
Tax law is so arcane.
The alternate version of this story is that Mr. Trump, the man who assures us he alone is tough enough to stand up to Islamic State, can't release his tax returns because his tax attorneys advise against it.
I look forward to seeing what happens when Islamic State informs Mr. Trump he can't launch a drone strike against them until he files a 27B/6 in triplicate.
However, it's inspiring to watch the Trump children, but for the elusive Tiffany, campaign like their really rich dad is running for president and he's committed to repealing the estate tax if he's elected.
It's heartwarming. They are the wind beneath his whinge.
Mr. Trump has spent unseemly amounts of time complaining about the scrutiny his bid for the highest office in the land has put him under and what the bid has cost him.
If he doesn't win, "this will be the greatest waste of time, money and energy in my lifetime, by a factor of 100," Mr. Trump complained to a crowd of supporters this week, all but saying: "So don't screw this up for me, you losers."
It strikes me this must be a weird way to watch your dad blow your inheritance.
I wonder if his kids wish they'd sent him cruise brochures.
Coming, as it did, in the same week that Donald Trump's "charity" foundation was told by the New York Attorney-General to suspend operations pending an investigation, you'd think this tax story would be a fairly decisive blow.
One would assume the news that Mr. Trump may well have smugly driven an 18-year parade of limousines, golf carts and babe-bedecked grand pianos through a tax loophole, tooting his own horn all the while, would give many American voters pause, but Mr. Trump's support, while dwindling, remains strong.
The tribalism in American politics plays a part in this. Many Republicans will always vote Republican even when there's little or no Republican in their Republican. Even when scrutiny of the candidate's ingredients list suggests that conservatism is to Mr. Trump what fruit is to Froot Loops, some will cast their vote his way.
Of course, what does lie at the core of Mr. Trump's campaign, indeed, almost everything he has ever done, is the promise to put things back the way they used to be. Mr. Trump likes to put people in what he understands to be their place.
Whether that place is back in Mexico, or at least in housekeeping, or counting his money if they're "short guys that wear yarmulkes every day," as he is reported to have said, Mr. Trump promises to put things back again.
If you're young and black and you imagine your place to be your own street corner, Mr. "Stop and Frisk" Trump assumes, constitution be damned, the right to aggressively question you, insinuate you have no legitimate claim to be in the space and demand you produce identification. If you're older and black and in the White House, same thing.
If you're a woman, whether you be a "young and beautiful piece of ass" or "disgusting," "fat" and "ugly" "chubby," "unattractive," "slob," your place is wherever is most convenient for Mr. Trump, should he want to apply adjectives to you.
Those last labels were merely used, Mr. Trump said this week, for the "purpose of entertainment." One way or another, to him, that's what women are there for. That is, by the way, the core of all misogynist humour; pretty woman is the setup, ugly woman is the punchline.
It goes without saying that Mr. Trump's support remains strongest by far among older, white men, but that doesn't account for all of it – and why are so many unmoved by the endless gaffes and revelations of nefarious dealings?
There's a long tradition of con artists who succeed by convincing their victims not that they're good people, worthy of trust, but that they're damn sketchy people who are inviting the outsider to get in on something that's not quite on the level, if not downright criminal.
From the Spanish Prisoner scam to the Nigerian Prince scam, the key is to create the illusion of collusion. The scammer reaches out to the targets, often giving them the impression that they've been singled out for their superior intellect and trustworthiness. The scammer has a scheme, you see, and he needs a partner … he needs you.
These confidence tricks are more elaborate versions of getting a "deal" on a cellphone off the back of a truck. The buyer thinks he's savvy for realizing the phone is stolen. He buys it. The box is empty.
The next level up is a guy who tells you he has a line on some empty cellphone boxes. He'll let you in on the operation; can you just wire him a little something up front?
That is Donald Trump's promise to America. He has a new sting. He'll bring you in on it. He can't tell you exactly what it is, but it's going to be "huge," it's going to be "big league."
Donald Trump just needs you to trust him, maybe front him the presidency. He's going to play the rest of NATO for suckers, folks. There's money in China he needs to get out, he knows this guy, Vlad, you'd like him … and in America, Donald Trump believes he has found his mark.