American Greed: Trump’s Economic Team Is a Who’s Who of What’s Wrong
“I hear America singing,” Walt Whitman wrote, “the varied carols I hear.” Donald Trump hears America singing, too. But where Whitman heard men and women, masons and carpenters, Trump hears only the unvarying monotone of rich white males like himself.
Trump’s tone-deafness was in full effect last week, when he announced his team of economic advisers in advance of what is being billed as “a major economic address” in Detroit on Monday.
Trump’s team isn’t just monochromatic and male. At least four, and perhaps as many six, of the men are billionaires. They range in age from 50 to 74 – or, from “younger old white guy” to “older old white guy.”
Five team members are named Steve – which means that eight of them are not. For diversity, that will have to do.
There are only two economists on the team – and one of them believes in the flat tax.
But hedge funds are represented. So is fracking. And tobacco. And guns. And banking. And steel. And there’s the guy who mismanaged Chrysler before it was rescued by a government intervention.
Trump’s advisory team is a “suicide squad” for the American economy – which seems fitting, since a funder of the new “Suicide Squad” movie is on it, too.
Three team members – economist Peter Navarro, steel magnate Dan DiMicco and real estate investor Thomas Barrack Jr. – have criticized the bad “trade” deals supported by both major parties over the last 25 years. That’s a start, I suppose. But it’s not enough, not by a long shot.
(As for Barrack, he says he raised $32 million for a Trump super PAC from only four donors. He also hosted a Trump fundraiser for $25,000 a ticket – or $100,000 per couple. So much for “the candidate who can’t be bought because he doesn’t need the money.”)
Who’s not represented on Trump’s economic team? Working people. Women. Minorities. The middle class.
There are no union leaders or labor economists to explain why higher wages and a more unionized workforce leads to broader growth prosperity. There’s nobody who’s fighting to close the gender pay gap, or to resist the economic predation that has decimated minority communities. There’s no one who understands the devastating impact that environmental destruction is having on our economy, as well as on our planet and on our bodies.
So who are these men? Old caper movies introduce their players with a montage of them living their daily lives. Here, then, is the Trump Team montage:
Andrew Beal, banker: Beal made his billions buying up distressed properties, sometimes from government agencies. He reportedly plays rough at collection time. “Mr. Beal acknowledges that some debt collectors engaged by his banks may have pushed too hard,” the Wall Street Journal wrote.
Beal likes to play high-stakes poker. He is known for offering risky loans – and because he owns a bank, the US government insures them.
Speaking of government, we forgot to mention: this federally insured tycoon is a libertarian.
Steve Feinberg, financier: Feinberg runs Cerberus Capital Management, which bought Chrysler in 2007 with some other investors and promised to restore it to profitability. Instead they declared bankruptcy and accepted federal bailout money for Chrysler Financial.
Cerberus also purchased a majority share of GMAC in 2006 and accepted federal bailout money for it, too (after the Fed bent the rules and declared it a bank holding company).
Then there are the guns. Cerberus purchased Bushmaster Firearms International, Remington Arms, and several other firearms companies, and merged them all into an entity called the “Freedom Group.” It took an investor revolt to make Cerberus promise to unload these holdings after Bushmaster’s AR-15 was used to kill a number of small children in the Sandy Hook shootings. (It later reneged, saying it couldn’t find a buyer.)
Cerberus also promised to stay out of the gun debate, but two years after Sandy Hook its executives were funding anti-gun control ads – in Connecticut, where the kindergarten massacre occurred.
Feinberg is a major Republican donor. He now says he regrets naming his firm for the three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell.
Steven Mnuchin, financier/film producer: Mnuchin’s investment group “bailed out” a housing lender in California and renamed it OneWest. OneWest, where Mnuchin became CEO, has been strongly criticized for its foreclosure practices.
The California Reinvestment Coalition has called on authorities to investigate OneWest’s apparent pattern of racial discrimination in foreclosures. It also cited its abusive “foreclosures of widows,” which makes it morally indistinguishable from countless silent-movie villains.
On the plus side, Mnuchin was an executive producer on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Harold Hamm, Oklahoma oil billionaire: Hamm is, among other things, a fracker with extensive holdings in the Bakken Formation.
Bloomberg News reports that Hamm attempted to have some earthquake researchers fired from the University of Oklahoma, where he’s a major donor, because they were investigating the connection between the oil and gas industry and Oklahoma’s “nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes.”
Hamm, who is reportedly worth $11.3 billion, was cited as one of the executives urging Mitt Romney to turn federal lands over to states for oil and gas exploitation.
Believe it or not, this fracker is reportedly under consideration for the job of Energy Secretary in a Trump Administration.
John Paulson, hedge funder: Paulson made billions using credit default swaps to bet against subprime mortgages in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. That’s no crime, and Paulson guessed right – although it did lead to labels like “the hedge funder who bet against America.”
Paulson’s actions reinforce the idea that today’s hedge funds are economically harmful entities. It’s fine for an airline to hedge against the price of oil to protect its bottom line. But it’s hard to see how the bets made by today’s hedge funds help the economy. They are destructive when they lead to market manipulation or the entrapment of unwary investors.
Speaking of which: Paulson went to Goldman Sachs in 2006 and said he wanted to bet against subprime mortgages. Goldman needed a buyer for those investments, which were then packaged as a “collateralized debt obligation” or “CDO” called “Abacus.” It did not reveal that Paulson had shorted them by more than $1 billion. (Summaries here and here.)
Goldman Sachs paid more than half a billion dollars ($550 million) to settle the case. Paulson, who was not accused of wrongdoing, made about $1 billion on the deal. (He’s fallen on harder times lately, although presumably not the “foreclosed widow” kind of hard times.)
“Some investors later would argue that Mr. Paulson’s actions indirectly led to the creation of additional dangerous CDO investments,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “resulting in billions of dollars of additional losses for those who owned the CDO slices.”
That’s a sensible interpretation. Meanwhile, Americans were left wondering what this kind of activity does for them or the economy as a whole – or why their economic future should be entrusted to someone with this sort of background.
These are the architects of the economy Trump would create: a fracker for Energy Secretary, harmful speculators in key advisory roles, and an economy controlled by people who foreclose on widows and profit from gun violence. That’s worth remembering when he speaks in Detroit on Monday.
The America Trump describes is a dark dystopia, competitive and divided and brutal. Now he’s assembled a team that could make that nightmare a reality. We thought “Fury Road” was just a movie. Who knew it was a presidential platform, too?