WHEN THEN-TREASURY Secretary Jack Lew decided in 2016 to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, he knew it would be up to the next administration to implement the change. But it seemed highly unlikely that anyone would upend a plan to honor this great American hero with a currency redesign that would also include depictions of historic events such as the suffragist march on Washington. “I don’t think somebody’s going to probably want to do that — to take the image of Harriet Tubman off of our money? To take the image of the suffragists off?” Mr. Lew said incredulously.
No one can blame him for a failure to imagine that any future administration would be so petty and narrow-minded as to go out of its way to thumb its nose at women, minorities and history. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disclosed to Congress on Wednesday that redesign of the $20 bill to include an image of the former slave and leader of the Underground Railroad, slated for next year to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, has been pushed back to 2028. Tubman was selected following a massive grass-roots campaign to include a woman on U.S. paper currency.
The explanation Mr. Mnuchin offered for the delay — the need for more time for “counterfeiting issues” — would be laughable if it were not so insulting. Are we really expected to believe that the administration, one that boasts about its can-do capabilities, needs eight more years to implement a new design? If indeed counterfeiting matters are the primary reason for currency design, shouldn’t you start with the $20 bill, since it is one of the most widely circulated?
It is more likely that Mr. Mnuchin, as the New York Times reported, feared President Trump would cause an uproar with an outright cancellation of a bill bearing Tubman’s image. As a candidate, Mr. Trump criticized the decision as “political correctness,” and he has made no secret of his admiration for President Andrew Jackson, whose image Tubman would have dislodged from the front of the $20 bill.
Some would argue there are bigger issues facing the country than who is on the $20 bill, and no doubt the administration is guilty of far more serious offenses. But symbols matter. Backpedaling on putting the first African American woman on paper money tells women and girls and people of color that they don’t — and never have — mattered. Mr. Trump has found yet another way to show that he does not really aspire to be president of all Americans.