Trump vs. Personal and Financial Accountability: The War Rages On

consumer-financial-protection-bureau-mick-mulvaney
President Donald Trump recently appointed Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s not good news for fans of accountability for big banks and other lenders. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

“What about Donald Trump?”

What began as a trickle of allegations of sexual impropriety against Harvey Weinstein and Alyssa Milano’s unwitting revival of a decade-old hashtag campaign has since crescendoed to a tidal wave of admissions of guilt, suspicions of wrongdoing, and canceled project releases, suspensions, and firings. The list is a growing one, an impressive collection of high-profile names that’s becoming too long to contain even for my purposes in a 3,000-to-4,000-word blog post. Ultimately, what seems most important about these revelations is that they are happening at all. Women and men are coming out of the proverbial shadows to explicitly name their assaulters/harassers, and late in 2017, some measure of accountability for the abusive actions of men in power appears to be being exacted. In this respect, the identities of the accusers and the accused do not seem to be the most critical aspect, especially as it concerns attempts by media outlets and publicists to paint the accuser as a deceiver, liar, Jezebel, or seductress. Civil rights activists hope the #MeToo campaign and other associated movements are indicative of a sea change, a watershed moment for sexual freedom and reproductive rights, or some other water-related metaphor for social progress.

The idea that the names are less important than their associated dirty deeds becomes complicated, however, when the accused are charged specifically with representing and protecting members of the very populations against which they are alleged to have sinned, if you will. Sen. Al Franken, a leader within a party broadly identified with ideals of inclusivity and empowerment of women and other minorities, recently apologized after being confronted by several women about inappropriately touching them—though he didn’t really explain what in particular he was apologizing for. Rep. John Conyers is under pressure from fellow Democrats to resign from his post after his own allegations of sexual misconduct and after announcing he would step down from his role as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. And then there’s Roy Moore. Beyond questions of his fitness to serve the public in any capacity in an unbiased way—let’s not forget his erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse as well as continuing to enforce Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage despite it being deemed unconstitutional as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court—there’s the matter of several women accusing Moore of making unwanted sexual advances on them prior to the age of consent (16 in Alabama) and/or sexually assaulting them. And this man currently has a 50-50 shot of winning a ticket to the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama voters.

Herein, a pattern begins to emerge just among those alleged to have committed unthinkable acts within the political sphere. The obvious commonality is that these supposed perpetrators are male and hold more power than the women claiming to be their victims. (I say “supposed” and “claiming” under the premise that these men are innocent until proven guilty, but by the same token, I believe their accusers, so at least for my sake, this is largely a question of semantics.) What are not part of the pattern, it should be stressed, are the race of the would-be assailants—Franken and Moore are white, Conyers is black—or their party affiliations—Conyers and Franken are Democrats, Moore is running as a representative of the Republican Party. Owing specifically to the notion sexual deviancy is a nonpartisan issue—or at least should be—and is a hot-button topic at that, it should be relatively easy for other party members to call for their colleagues to resign or step aside. As noted, other Democrats in Congress and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have suggested that John Conyers resign. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, alongside other prominent Republicans, have urged Roy Moore to remove his name from consideration for the vacant Senate seat set to soon be decided via special election, or otherwise have distanced themselves from supporting his campaign. Apparently, that he was a birther, hates homosexuals and Muslims, has past ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups, and lied about monies received from his nonprofit Christian legal organization is all OK, but going after young women amidst a groundswell of public support for outing sexual predators—whoa, draw the line!

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump. Before we even get to his seemingly sordid history with women, let’s acknowledge the fact that he has maintained his support for Roy Moore through the litany of allegations, in this regard deviating from key members of his own chosen party. To be fair, other politicians, chiefly fellow Alabamans, have defended Moore in their own right, participating in their share of character assassination of the purported victims of Moore’s misdeeds. Also, Steve Bannon is set to publicly stump for Moore in advance of the election, which should be as much of a red flag as anything, but the point here is that Trump isn’t alone in backing Roy Moore. Then again, when Mitch Mc-freaking-Connell won’t even get behind someone purely for political reasons, you know he or she must be pretty damn toxic. That prospective voters in Alabama are yet on the fence about him would be mind-boggling if not for the idea roughly half of Americans who came out to the polls this past November opted for someone as scandalous and unqualified as Trump. For those voters, morality was an afterthought next to the issue or issues that mattered most to them at the time they cast their ballot. Unless they were voting strategically to block Hillary the Neoliberal and the Democrats, which would be more forgivable if it didn’t play directly into the hands of the two-party system.

So, what possible sins of Donald “Two Corinthians” Trump’s are his supporters potentially forgiving or at least overlooking? You know, besides generally being a shitty human being? In the arena of sexual predation, allegedly, there’s a lot to forgive/overlook. At least 12 women have made accusations of unwanted physical contact, not to mention several women have cited his effective invasion of the dressing rooms of various Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants while the contestants were undressing or undressed. It would be one thing for Trump if it were merely his word against theirs, and even then, he is vastly outnumbered. Being the blowhard and entitled-feeling brat he is, however, we have everything short of an admission on these fronts. Regarding the allegations against him of undesired advances and physicality, Trump basically copped to being a repeat offender in the infamous leaked recording from 2005 where he boasts to Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood fame, about being able to grab women “by the pussy” and being able to do so essentially because he’s rich and famous. As for the discussion of him being a voyeuristic perv, possibly involving underage women at that, Trump bragged about that, too. In 2005—wow, this was quite the banner year for “the Donald,” wasn’t it?—Trump uttered these words during an interview with Howard Stern, really playing to his predominantly-male audience:

I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else. You know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant. And therefore I’m inspecting it…. “Is everyone OK?” You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.

“Sort of get away with things like that?” What does that even mean? Either you do or you don’t get away with it, and through a #MeToo lens, Donald Trump shouldn’t get away with anything. For a man that many would contend shouldn’t have been allowed to be President in the first place, it stands to reason that he, like Louis C.K. and others fallen from grace, should be removed from his current role, even if he is President of these United States. That is, just because he is POTUS doesn’t mean he is infallible.

President Trump said these things. He may not have been President when he said them, but he did say them. At least with respect to the Access Hollywood tape, though, and more recently, Trump has indicated his disbelief, however insincere or warped it may be, that the tape actually exists. Again, it would be one thing if Trump merely denied the existence of the tape to begin with, and that would make this denial at least plausible on his part. But Trump has publicly acknowledged the contents of the tape. Leaked in the weeks before the 2016 election, it prompted him to issue a hasty apology. That’s a matter of public record, too. He literally said, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” So, if the tape doesn’t exist or was “doctored” in some way, for what was he apologizing in the first place? If it was a sincere apology, first of all, it was a terrible one, because it involved one of his favorite strategies to attempt to mitigate his personal responsibility: pivoting to the misdeeds—real or imagined—of the Clintons or some other made-to-be-reprehensible figure. More likely, though, Trump’s apology was wholly insincere. Why do I say this? Because Trump never really apologizes or takes responsibility for anything. It’s been his way leading up to the presidency, so why should it change now? The man simply doubles down on his assertions, claiming he does not remember key details of events that reflect poorly on his character, attacking the credibility of sources that report these events (see also “fake news”), and pivoting once more to other subjects. Even if he is not an abuser—and that’s a big “if”—he sure fits the profile of the kinds of men who have been brought down for less in recent weeks.

When Donald Trump isn’t busy trying to make the incontrovertibly true false, he’s trying to do the opposite. Much as recent reports have indicated that Trump has waffled on the very existence of the tape that painted him as a pussy-grabber, apparently, the man is not done with the whole birther controversy. You know, the one where Trump and others have insinuated Barack Obama was born in another country and should have never been able to be President. According to Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, writing for The New York Times, Trump has questioned the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate behind closed doors. In the same type of forum, Trump has also repeated his belief that widespread voter fraud led to his losing the popular vote. The problem with these notions is that they’re both patently false. Obama has long since released his birth records showing proof of his Hawaiian birth, and Trump has even publicly acknowledged Obama was born in this country—period. As for the whole voter fraud angle, there is no credible evidence to back up Trump’s theories. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Besides, in what would seem to be a telling turn of events, the commission authorized by Pres. Trump has not even convened in recent weeks, though this may simply be a function of it being sued over a dozen times because of lack of transparency and concerns about the privacy of voter information. Either way, it’s a big to-do about something that ultimately has no bearing on the outcome of the election—and seriously, we should get on that whole making-the-popular-vote-decide-the-election thing the law of the land.


All of this talk of personal accountability for Donald Trump and his—how shall we say this?—special relationship with the truth has been within the purview of easily verifiable and already-verified data. There’s a recording of Trump saying awful things about his physical contact with women. There are authenticated birth records that reveal Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States. There is no evidence that millions of people voted illegally on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. Such an operation to meddle with the results of the election would require a significant amount of organization and resources to effect. You know, the kind of organization and resources, say, a central government would be able to provide, maybe even a foreign power such as—oh, I don’t know—Russia. Wait a minute—that did happen, only it was Trump who was the intended recipient of such collusion! It is on the subject of Russian interference and ties, meanwhile, that we segue to discussion of things yet less transparent: that of matters financial for Trump and his administration.

Even before the election, scrutiny was levied upon the unknowns surrounding Donald Trump’s personal finances. Specifically, people wondered—and still do—what the contents of his latest tax returns might reveal. Sure, Trump has claimed that only the media wants to see his tax information. In fact, at various points, a majority of Americans have wanted him to release his returns, believing it to be important to them and/or how the President does his job. What’s more, the returns are only part of the conversation re Trump and his money. For one, there’s the matter of Trump failing to put his assets in a blind trust. Oh, Trump’s legal representation has gone through contortions in explaining how what he has done with his businesses constitutes such an arrangement, but unfortunately for them, it’s a bunch of hogwash. That the Trump family has still managed a high degree of involvement in Trump Organization affairs clearly points to this so-called “blind trust” as being neither blind nor trustworthy.

There’s also the matter of Trump’s umpteen trips to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump-owned properties. These trips cost money, particularly when considering the need to safeguard the President and secure a host of properties not optimized for ensuring Trump’s safety. While we are talking about particulars, we, the taxpayers, are the ones footing the bill. And the Trump clan is materially benefitting from this arrangement—every time the President takes his golf clubs out of his bag. Based on a 2016 estimate from the Government Accountability Office, just one trip to Mar-a-Lago costs about $3 million. Donald Trump has been President for less than a year, but in that time, has made trips to at least one of his properties on 34 weekends, as of November 22. That’s no small potatoes, and we thus have every right to wonder whether any decision the Trump administration is making is primarily for the family’s benefit. Recall the first iteration of the embattled travel ban, a thinly-veiled bit of prejudice. Conspicuously, the countries that were named in the ban were ones in which the Trump Organization held no properties. Coincidence? Hardly.

It is against this inconsiderate and reckless financial backdrop that I invoke the recent tumult surrounding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for when Donald Trump isn’t busy enriching himself—and boy, has he been enriching himself at our expense for longer than he has been President—he’s been doing his part alongside his adopted Republican brethren to help other rich assholes like himself stay rich or otherwise unaccountable for their actions. (See also, “Republican tax reform.”) First, a little backdrop for the backdrop, the CFPB was authorized in 2010 with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a piece of legislation designed to approve accountability for financial institutions and lenders following the financial crisis of 2007 to whenever-the-heck-analysts-want-to-claim-it-ended-despite-people-and-companies-still-trying-to-recover. Broadly speaking, the Bureau is devoted to empowering consumers to make financial choices that best serve their needs, enforcing existing regulations against predatory lenders and other institutions that break the law, and educating consumers and companies alike about their capabilities and responsibilities. Much of their work has focused on credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, the likes of which just happen to produce mountains of debt and keep millions of Americans in financial shackles.

And this is the organization Trump, professed man of the people, and his cronies want to dismantle. The CFPB has not been above controversy in its brief tenure, not the least of which involves its unique structure as an independent agency controlled by a single director, i.e. “who will watch the Watchmen?” As Bryce Covert (great name for an investigative journalist, by the by) writes for New Republic, however, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been the one organization devoted solely to protecting financial consumers, and has produced tangible results, namely netting some $12 billion from the likes of Wells Fargo and other financial institutions as compensatory relief for Jane and John Q. Public. According to Covert, this is precisely why Trump and the GOP want to gut the agency. Despite Trump calling the CFPB heretofore a “total disaster,” (much like ObamaCare, but who knew people actually like keeping their health care!) and despite disputed acting director Mick Mulvaney labeling it a “sad, sick joke,” many would contest the assertions of its conservative Republican critics that the Bureau is bad for banks. As Covert and others would maintain, the big banks, in particular, seem to be doing just fine ten years removed from the financial crisis. That’s what makes the current legal battle over the CFPB’s directorship so critically important. Prior to his resignation, Richard Cordray named deputy director Leandra English as acting director, and English has maintained the language of Dodd-Frank specifies that she should automatically take over as director. Pres. Trump, meanwhile, has appointed Mulvaney, previously one of the conservative mob looking on at the CFPB from afar with pitchforks and torches. Not literal pitchforks and torches, mind you. After all, this is Washington, D.C. we’re talking about here, not Charlottesville, VA.

When it comes down to brass tacks, then, why is Bryce Covert so concerned about Mick Mulvaney taking the reins of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and why should you be as well? Well, in a nutshell, because each and every appointment made by President Trump so far has been a deliberate attempt to undermine the purest applications of the underlying office. From the appearance of things, in fact, Donald Trump looks to be directly trolling the disapproving left, but to suggest such things would be giving him far too much credit. Just look at some of his nominees for key Cabinet positions. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education—despite having no experience with public education. Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA—after suing it umpteen times as Oklahoma Attorney General. Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy—an agency he wanted to dismantle while on the presidential campaign trail but the name of which he famously was too blockheaded to remember during one debate. Even Mick Mulvaney himself barely got through Senate confirmation hearings to name him director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney, a fervent Tea Partier, rode the GOP offshoot’s wave of success during Obama’s tenure to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of South Carolina in 2010. Among his soaring achievements as a member of the House (sarcasm intended) are his involvement in voting in 2015 against a funding resolution which would have prevented a government shutdown, in significant part due to the resolution also funding Planned Parenthood, which he named as a “traffick[er] in pieces of dead children,” being a founding member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus within the House ([INSERT EYE-ROLL EMOJI HERE]), and opposing the Affordable Care Act and gun control, two things many of his constituents need or want, even the Republicans. Thanks for nothing, Mick!

Between Donald Trump in the White House and Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is little to inspire or warrant enthusiasm. Once more, we turn to the insights of Bryce Covert:

[Republicans] opposed the creation of the CFPB from the beginning, and are devoted to whittling away at it. They’ve pushed to weaken its independence and effectiveness by monkeying with its structure. The House passed the CHOICE Act in June, which would strip the CFPB of its authority to supervise, police, and examine financial institutions; bar it from overseeing payday loans; and let the president fire its director at whim.

Candidate Trump appeared ready to strike a different pose in office. On the campaign trail, he railed against “hedge fund guys.” He promised not to “let Wall Street get away with murder,” arguing that “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us.” It was all part of his supposedly populist message that he would stand up for those left behind by an elite-driven economy and Washington, D.C. Yet, now in office, he’s gone soft on banks. His administration has already loosened financial regulations, dropped a rule to rein in Wall Street bonuses, and allowed AIG to wriggle out of stricter rules to protect the economy if the insurance giant failed.

And he’s followed the rest of his party in attacking the CFPB. His budget zeroed out its funding completely and proposed other ways to significantly change it. His Treasury Department released a report arguing that the CFPB’s “unaccountable structure and unduly broad regulatory powers” have “hindered consumer choice and access to credit, limited innovation, and imposed undue compliance burdens, particularly on small institutions.” The Treasury also recommended that the president be able to fire the director, that its enforcement be slowed down, and that many of its supervisory powers be handed back to agencies that previously did barely anything to police financial firms.

If Mulvaney survives English’s court challenge, he would be able to bring much of that wish list to life. And there’s no reason to think he’d do anything different. He has outright stated, “I don’t like the fact that CFPB exists.” On Monday he got to work, saying all new regulations from the CFPB will be frozen for 30 days. If he remains the bureau’s leader, we can expect much, much more of the same.

OK, so here’s the thing: Mick Mulvaney is only the acting director. If Leandra English’s legal challenge fails to make an impact, though, who knows how long Mulvaney will be at the helm of the CFPB or if it will even last long enough to make the contested director’s seat a meaningful point of contention? Pres. Trump’s administration has been marked by discord and disorganization, a notion highlighted by his molasses-like filling of key government positions that does little to help serve his agenda, as makeshift as it is. Why wouldn’t he drag his feet on appointing a successor for a bureau he wants to delete in the first place? And why wouldn’t we anticipate more abandonment of existing investigations into misdeeds of the financial sector and relaxation of regulations all under the vague impression regulation kills businesses? To take a cue from Ms. Covert, why expect anything to get better until it gets much, much worse?

Accountability. Responsibility. Truth. Whether with respect to something as trivial as the size of one’s Inauguration crowd vis-à-vis that of the previous President or something as of paramount importance as the health of the nation’s economy, rest assured you will not get these virtues from Donald Trump and the gaggle of Republican yes-men and yes-women he has tapped to distract and dissuade from the real damage they are trying to do for the benefit of their corporate and otherwise wealthy benefactors. Putting Mick Mulvaney at the head of the CFPB in an apparent attempt to eviscerate the one truly consumer-oriented agency designed to safeguard everyday Americans’ finances only furthers this notion. Amid Trump’s culture war on the most sacred American values, the vast majority of us stand to lose. Whether his supporters fail to recognize this, or do and simply don’t care, is the only thing left to question.

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