Was it IRS intimidation or just an ‘error’?

It was a lazy Sunday evening, and I was pleased to receive a phone call from an old colleague. It had been five years since we worked together.

I was pleased that he had called me via a popular chat app that I had been urging him to sign up for months.

We shared a mutual fondness for films from the golden era of Hollywood. After reading my article from 2015 predicting a Trump victory in 2016, politics in the US also became a favorite subject for us.

He had recently watched many of Humphrey Bogart’s films. He made the case that In A Lonely Place (1950) was an underrated gem while he was less fond of Casablanca (1942) He also praised All Through the Night (1942). I made the case that Sidney Pollack’s Sabrina (1995) with Harrison Ford was superior to Bill Wilder’s original starring Bogart.

We then proceeded to politics.

We talked about the possibility of Trump running again in 2024 and how he is being gratuitously investigated on myriad grounds. He also wondered how stressful it must be to endure such persecution.

We talked about the Stalinist January 6th Committee and the arrests of Trump allies such as Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon. We talked about the targeting of citizens. I mentioned the suicide of Matthew Perna who attended the January 6th protest and who committed suicide because he simply couldn’t take the pressure of the Kafkaesque persecution from the US Justice system.

“I know the feeling, it is very tough” he responded.

I was taken aback by his comment but before I could ask why he said what he said, he revealed the details.

“A fortnight back, I received a letter from the IRS that I hadn’t reported a significant amount of my income and hence I owe them taxes and 1.5 percent interest,” he said.

“You know me, I may joke around. But never take my work lightly and certainly not my taxes. I report each and every cent of my income, even minor consultancy work where I get paid small amounts. For almost forty years of my working life, I assiduously filed taxes with no issues. But now I am called a tax evader.”

“My accountant through whom I had filed my taxes was perplexed. He too had verified my filing before submission. After studying the letter, he said that I had paid taxes for my six consulting assignments for the same firm together. The IRS wanted me to report each assignment separately and pay taxes individually.” he said.

“My accountant thinks it could be an error on the part of the IRS. But I have my suspicions on why this is happening. Last year I donated to Trump’s campaign. I also attended a Trump rally.” he said

“I never revealed my support for Trump when I worked full-time. I didn’t want any blowback for me or my family. But now, I have crossed the retirement age. I do my consulting work because I enjoy it. There’s  enough in the bank. The kids have moved out and are gainfully employed. I saw no harm in making a contribution to Trump who I think has been great for our nation. I must say my sixth sense said there may be trouble.” he said laughing sardonically.

A few months later he called again.

“My accountant called multiple authorities at the IRS but none had a satisfactory answer. One of them advised that I should pay what they are asking for and challenge it later just to avoid the perception that I was evading taxes. Thankfully, my accountant still says there's no need to pay what I had already paid,” said my former colleague, sounding dismayed.

“So what is the next course of action?” I asked.

“I consulted a lawyer friend about the matter just to be safe. He laughed it off and said  I shouldn’t worry. I must confess I am shaken. I wonder if it is the beginning of something? I know government agencies have myriad ways at getting back at you. The reason I signed up for this chat app is that I feel unsafe talking on an unsecured line,” he said sounding serious.

The stress was much more than before, and it was palpable. He usually is a cheerful gent who loves to laugh, but all that had changed. The ebullience was replaced by paranoia.

A few months before he called again.

“I’m free,” he said sounding like his jovial previous self.

Before I could say another word, he expounded.

“My accountant tracked an IRS authority who examined my tax records and unequivocally acknowledged that it was an error and I owed them nothing. I was partially relieved. The relief was total when I received a letter from the IRS asking me to disregard this previous communication. It also contained a tax refund form for a refund which I didn’t need since I hadn’t paid,” said he sounding relieved.

“Time for a celebration!” I responded.

“I wondered if it was just a warning. Was this the government saying, ‘we spared you this time, stay away from Trump or there will be blood.’ So I inquired with my fellow consultants, who asked their colleagues. It turns out others also received similar notices. One of them I know very well, she is a hardcore Democrat – she even took time off to work for Hillary's campaign. I guess it wasn’t political after all,” he concluded.

Shakespeare once wrote “All’s well, that end’s well,” but the ordeal lasted for over five months. While the matter may have closed, there are some disturbing takeaways.

Freedom is the central tenet in a democracy. The right of choice – from the choice of profession to the choice of snack. Somewhere in the middle is the choice of a political party to support both politically and financially.

While the Constitution may say that the citizen is free, real freedom is only when the mind is free and fearless. When a citizen begins to hesitate to support a political party or speak freely, the written words of the Constitution are rendered meaningless and so is democracy.

My former colleague's apprehensions were obviously unfounded. But the fact that the thought that he may have been persecuted because of his political beliefs demonstrates that small-d democratic values on the ground are gradually eroding. 

When citizens see a rich, famous, powerful, and former president being relentlessly persecuted and his home being raided, he has every right to wonder if “it could happen to me”

It doesn’t help when Joe Biden says that the “MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that’s existed” in recent American history.

It is hard to tell the effect such incidents have.

Perhaps he may decide never to donate to Trump again or attend any rally because he desires a life of peace free from hassles.

The Democrats have created a climate of fear and have effectively criminalized political opposition. They certainly benefit if people hesitate to donate or support the party challenging them.

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