"THAT MAKES me smart."
It was the most stunning line in Monday's 90-minute presidential debate, and Donald Trump uttered it.
But this was no ordinary quip. This was arrogance on steroids.
It was more insulting than Trump's assertion that blacks live in hellish, bullet-ridden environments. More jarring than Trump's refusal to apologize for leading what Hillary Clinton rightly called the "racist" birther movement. More puzzling than Trump's description of a $1 million business loan he received from his father (before receiving millions more later) as small.
No, Trump's little aside about being "smart" was surprising, even for Trump. That's because it came as Clinton surmised that Trump's refusal to release his tax returns was linked to the possibility that he'd paid no federal income taxes. Before Clinton could even finish, Trump arrogantly told the world that his failure to pay was justified, because, for people like Trump, manipulating the tax code to avoid federal income taxes doesn't make one a tax dodger, or a scam artist.
Instead, Trump said, "That makes me smart."
That begs the question. If Donald Trump believes he's smart for not paying taxes, then what does he think of those of us who pony up what we owe Uncle Sam every year?
I think he looks down on us. I think he believes that rules are for other people, that paying one's share is for suckers. In short, I believe Trump thinks American taxpayers are stupid. No matter our color or ethnicity.
That's right, white working-class voters. Trump played you when he told you that your problems are everyone else's fault. He manipulated you when he whipped you into a frenzy of xenophobic euphoria. When he made crazy statements about every other group, he never told you he wasn't too impressed with you, either.
He played you with his crass and stereotype-filled pitch for black votes in August.
"You're living in poverty," he said of African Americans. "Your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed."
White working-class voters ate it up.
Never mind that most blacks don't live in poverty. Forget that his youth unemployment numbers are inflated. Ignore the fact that the overall black unemployment rate is below 10 percent. Trump's assessment of black life is based upon a stereotype wrapped in a caricature. And in a world where facts are too time-consuming for many people, simplicity is always nice.
When Trump told Americans that Muslims should be banned from entering this country, the white working-class voters who attend his rallies believed Trump was on their side. When Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists and promised to build a wall to keep them out, white working-class voters believed Trump felt their pain. Their love for him grew when Trump claimed a federal judge's Mexican heritage made the judge incapable of impartiality in a lawsuit against Trump University.
But Monday night's debate proved that Trump's disdain isn't limited to blacks, Mexicans and Muslims. When it comes to taxpayers, he has equal-opportunity scorn, because, after all, not paying taxes makes one smart.
If you are among the millions of hardworking Americans who can't afford a legion of accountants to pore over the tax code for exemptions, you're not smart.
If you can't afford to hire a cadre of tax lawyers to lock horns with the Internal Revenue Service, you're not smart.
If you don't have the means to manipulate the system in ways that drastically reduce your tax liability, you're not smart.
If you don't have political cronies in office to stop litigation against you, you're not smart.
Trump isn't like you poor workaday saps. He has connections. That's how he was able to tie up the state of New Jersey in six years of litigation over a casino tax bill that had grown to nearly $30 million. Once Republican Chris Christie - a Trump friend - became governor, Trump was able to settle the tax bill for just $5 million.
Too bad the rest of us aren't smart enough to have those kinds of pals at our disposal.
But as bad as Trump's "smart" comment looks, there's one thing about it that should hearten most Americans.
Trump's apparent contempt for the American taxpayer isn't driven solely by race.
That's because, in Trump's world, if you're white, and you're paying your taxes, you're just as dumb as everybody else.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).