Among the many reasons that Donald Trump gave for his appreciation of WikiLeaks publishing material stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman was that it exposed what he said were her hidden allegiances. About a month before the 2016 election, he praised the release of transcripts of speeches Clinton gave at Goldman Sachs — transcripts were stolen by hackers that the government believes were connected to the Russian government.
“These transcripts also shine a spotlight on how this corrupt establishment works,” Trump said in Ambridge, Pa., “where politicians meet in secret with the big banks, collect massive sums of money, then betray the American worker.”
“Which,” he added, “is you and me and sort of all of us. We’re all workers. We’re all working; we just work differently.”
This was Trump’s pitch. He was on the side of the little guy against the nefarious cabal of (“international”) banks and politicians. Sure, it was incongruous for Trump to claim to be a worker — his employer has always been the real estate company he inherited — but he was a worker in the sense that he stood with the workers against the big banks and moneyed interests. Unlike Clinton, who “represents the donors, the politicians, the big banks, the multinational corporations and everybody getting rich off a very rigged system, and we know that,” as he said in Kenansville, N.C., in September of last year. The guys at Goldman Sachs had “total control” over his opponent, which, Trump implied, was not how he would operate.
On Saturday, while America was groggily emerging from its Thanksgiving stupor, President Trump broached the subject of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Twitter. The bureau was created after the recession to monitor financial institutions on behalf of consumers, with an eye toward preventing another financial crisis.
Bloomberg News’s editorial board, in an editorial praising the watchdog agency, described some of its successes: “It created the first federal rules to make payday lending less predatory. It gave the public reams of valuable information, such as a database that allows consumers to compare credit-card agreements. Its practice of publishing complaints pushed financial institutions to be more responsive. Its investigation of Wells Fargo brought national attention to the fake-accounts issue.”
Trump’s take on the agency, though, was less favorable.
“Financial Institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public” is an interesting claim. Trump has repeatedly hailed his stewardship of the economy he inherited, but here he carves out banks and other institutions as having stumbled. This isn’t true: Banks have repeatedly set new quarterly records on incomes over the past several years, including in the second quarter of 2017. If that’s devastation, sign me up.
This wasn’t the first time as president that Trump has risen to the defense of the banks. After Hurricane Maria erased much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, Trump responded to criticism that he’d been slow to help the island by criticizing Puerto Rico’s government. “Much of the Island was destroyed,” he tweeted, “with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
That’s just on Twitter. Despite criticizing Clinton and his primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) as controlled by Goldman Sachs, Trump appointed Goldman executives and alumni to serve as his treasury secretary, deputy treasury secretary, chair of the National Economic Council and head of the Securities and Exchange Commission — the agency created to regulate institutions like Goldman.
At the same time, Trump has been defending or introducing policies that favor the industry. He signed an order revoking a rule mandating that financial advisers act in the best interest of their clients. He signed a law blocking class-action suits against financial institutions. He is advocating a tax bill that would heavily benefit the wealthiest Americans (at the eventual expense of lower-income people).
Trump’s pledge to “bring [the CFPB] back to life” meant moving his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, over to lead the agency after director Richard Cordray left the position. Cordray tapped Leandra English to serve as the acting director, not Mulvaney, setting up a legal fight over whose authority prevails. (English, whose appointment came several hours before Mulvaney’s, has filed suit to block Mulvaney from assuming control; the legal decision defending Trump’s move was written by an attorney who had previously defended payday-loan lenders against the CFPB.) Should Mulvaney (and Trump) prevail, it seems likely that the effect on the CFPB will be precisely what Trump promises: to allow financial institutions to “properly serve the public” — as they see fit.
In fairness, Trump did telegraph his defense of the banks before Election Day last year. In June 2016, during a speech in San Jose that sparked violent protests, he lamented that the “regulators” were “running the banks right now.”
“They can’t loan money to people that want to create jobs,” Trump said. “That’s part of the problem.” Those people who couldn’t get loans? His friends.
“I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses that can’t borrow money. They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank,” he said in February. (Our fact-checkers were skeptical.)
Just regular American workers who can’t get loans for their nice businesses because of regulation.