There are hair scandals, and then there are HAIR SCANDALS.
I would know. I weathered my own, and lived to tell.
Let’s look at a few of the highlights. (Which work best, I have found, when subtle lowlights are woven in at the roots.)
John Edwards’ $400 haircut (which was leaked to the media by the Obama campaign) was the beginning of the presidential hopeful’s downfall. Never mind that he reimbursed his campaign the $800 it cost for two haircuts by his Beverly Hills barber. (“Though, perhaps,” the New York Times sniffed at the time, “the word stylist is more applicable.”) Edwards had campaigned as a champion of the working class, and the $400 haircuts were simply too much cognitive dissonance for the American public.
Bill Clinton once got a fancy haircut by a fancy Hollywood stylist aboard Air Force One. (“THE MOST FAMOUS HAIRCUT SINCE SAMSON’S,” the Washington Post headlined its story, which, interestingly enough, corrected some of the original reporting on this particular Clinton scandal. The president initially caught heat for allegedly tying up air traffic, but Federal Aviation Administration records later revealed no delays in or out of Los Angeles International Airport that day.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was criticized in April for having a stylist give her a trim, even as she headlined a “stay home, save lives” public service campaign that specifically called out hair as a nonessential pandemic pursuit. (“Getting your roots done is not essential!”)
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently came under fire for visiting a closed San Francisco hair salon during a pandemic — mask dangling around her neck — while the rest of us make do with Flowbees at home.
But none of these scandals hold a candle to President Donald Trump’s HAIR SCANDAL. ALL CAPS.
Trump claimed $70,000 in hair care expenses as a deduction on his income taxes, according to an exhaustive analysis of his tax records, conducted by New York Times journalists.
The investigation examines two decades of Trump’s finances and reveals habitual business failures, chronic tax avoidance and hundreds of millions in debt.
“Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750,” the series begins. “He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.”
He also used all sorts of deductions to reduce his taxable income, including the aforementioned $70,000 in upkeep on his mane.
I have no idea whether this information, published five weeks before the election, will turn voters away from this president. I stopped trying to read the taste and tolerance of the American electorate after Trump mocked a disabled reporter and denigrated Mexicans and bragged about grabbing women by their genitals and still sailed to victory in 2016.
But I do know this. When my husband and I sit down to do our taxes, we sweat every deduction like an IRS auditor is peering over our shoulders as we calculate. Did we get a receipt from that Salvation Army donation? Does $48 hospital parking count as a medical expense? Do we have the tax ID for that summer camp that might be tax deductible under the Child and Dependent Care Credit? I bet most Americans can relate.
It never occurred to me that I could deduct my hair care. Now, I also never had my own reality TV show. Or a presidential campaign. So maybe my hair never counted as a work-related expense.
Then again …
If you Google “Heidi Stevens hair,” you’ll discover that many readers maintain my work suffers perilously from a lack of hair care.
“For heaven sake, comb your hair,” offers Jacquie. “Your picture instills not one iota of a knowledgeable person.”
“I would ask you to develop some insight,” writes Amy, “but anyone who thinks the hairstyle you have is attractive likely is overflowing with too much narcissism to grasp the idea of personal insight.”
“My neighbors and I,” writes Karen, “give you permission to shoot your hairdresser.”
One reader used to send me a handwritten letter every week, with my column photo clipped from the newspaper and stapled to the top of each note.
“Since you don’t seem to care about your appearance enough to get an easy care hairdo — one you can comb once a day, nor do you care about other people’s thoughts on your appearance — I will solve my being troubled by your photo with the column,” she wrote in the first note. “I’ll simply remove it each week — here’s #1.”
I stopped getting her letters after we moved out of Tribune Tower. Still, the hair critiques trickle in here and there, a weekly reminder that for some readers, the thoughts formed inside my head will never be as interesting as the hair that sits on top. So be it.
It’s all a moot point now, as are the hair scandals spanning Clinton to Edwards, Lightfoot to Pelosi. Trump’s hair-related tax dodge puts them all to shame. No amount of Air Force One preening or mid-pandemic trimming can compare to spending $70,000 on your hair (that’s 175 John Edwards cuts) and then using that small fortune to reduce the taxes you owe.
It’s hardly the most damning detail in the Times investigation. But it’s another piece of overwhelming evidence that the man running this country lives and works by his own dubious rules, even as he crows on and on about law and order.
Appearance isn’t everything. No matter how much money you spend (or lose) trying to make it so.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.