Financial nominees prove just how disconnected Trump is from reality

Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross are competent and knowledgable they just dont sound like they will lead the type of upheaval that Trump promised

We are transferring power back to you, the people, Donald Trump told the nation on Friday. For too long, a small group in our nations capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Not any more, he pledged.

Well, now the work begins, and last week we got the first chance to see the men, Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, most charged with fulfilling Trumps vow.

In the past, Trump told Americans during his inauguration, the victories of Washington power brokers have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And many Americans, especially the blue-collar and lower-middle-class voters who gave Trump his victory, certainly share that view.

Yes, the economy has staged a remarkable recovery during Barack Obamas eight years at the helm, and the unemployment rate shrank. But many Americans dont feel better off, in large part because wealth gains went to those who had enough capital to invest in the stocks when the Standard & Poors 500-index began its remarkably long bull run in March 2009, buying when assets were at their very cheapest. People such as Trumps treasury secretary pick Mnuchin (net worth in the hundreds of millions) and commerce secretary Ross (a multibillionaire). Mnuchin is so rich he forgot to disclose $100m of assets ahead of his confirmation hearing.

At least the first phase of Senate confirmation hearings for both men should reassure Americans that they have a solid working knowledge of business and finance unlike, say, Rick Perry, the would-be energy secretary who didnt know until recently what the energy department did.

The reality is that both Mnuchin and Ross are competent and knowledgable.

But they just dont sound like the kind of guys who will lead the type of Washington upheaval that Trump promised to deliver. When Trumps supporters cheered his pledge to make sure they share in the nations riches, did they have in mind that their leader would appoint a treasury secretary who made a fortune from OneWest, a California bank that became notorious for its particularly aggressive approach to foreclosures?

Californias attorney general, Kamala Harris who has since won election to the Senate and will be among those voting on Mnuchins nomination found evidence of widespread misconduct in OneWests business practices, although her agency never pursued any formal charges. The justice department is still reviewing claims brought by whistleblowers against OneWest in federal court, based on allegations that the bank didnt deal with applications for loan modifications properly, potentially harming thousands of ordinary Americans.

Ross, with fewer skeletons in his closet than Mnuchin, has had one of the smoothest rides of all of Trumps nominees thus far. Yes, he has outsourced a few thousand jobs, and having worked to restructure bankrupt companies his business practices have cost other jobs. But he has won the support of at least some union leaders, including the United Steelworkers of America.

Steven Mnuchin is so rich he forgot to disclose $100m of assets ahead of his confirmation hearing. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images

But were eager Trump voters really signing up for a billionaire bankruptcy/restructuring expert as the countrys chief trade and economic policy role when they voted for him? The kind of guy who takes a firm stance when it comes to when to keep a business open, with how many workers and at what wages? Ross who I first interviewed back in 1990 is the kind of individual who is very clear to whom the fruits of economic activity belong. Perhaps it doesnt belong to Washington bureaucrats, but it certainly does belong to winners people such as Trump, Mnuchin and Ross himself, who also sought out ways to make money from the 2008 economic collapse.

Of course, Trump may not end up with exactly what he expected. Certainly, both Mnuchin and Ross appear or have adopted a more commonsensical approach to economic or trade policies than has their new boss at least, if one judges by Trumps public bombast.

In his comments to the finance committee, Mnuchin emerged as a defender of the Internal Revenue Service and argued for boosting the agencys resources, and even spoke favorably about some aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which congressional Republicans are eager to demolish (just as soon as they have finished eviscerating Obamacare, that is).

While Ross publicly defended Trumps views on trade imbalances with countries such as China, telling senators that while the US may adhere to the rule of law, some other countries are governed by the law of the ruler, he also has at least in the past put forth some views that may make him unpopular amid some of a Republican administration filled with deregulatory zeal.

In a 2009 interview, discussing the state of Wall Street following the financial crisis, he told me that he thought the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (which separated investment banking from commercial banking, and the return of which figures such as Elizabeth Warren clamor for) was a big mistake and led in no small part to this problem with the banks. At least at that point, he believed that banks such as JP Morgan Chase had become too big to fail but probably too big to manage; too complicated to manage.

These two appointees some of the most qualified nominees, however controversial, of all those that Trump has put forward could even succeed in irking the new president, it seems.

But ultimately, the appointments are a reminder of just how disconnected from reality the new president is. Despite the blue-collar campaigning, he returned home to live in the penthouse of Trump Tower. And ultimately, while most of the Americans whose fates now lie in his hands couldnt even muster a few thousand dollars in a financial emergency, he has entrusted the decisions about how the economy will work and how the financial system will operate to men who simply cant relate to that kind of universe.

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