Mr. Blow believes that the President* needs “A Lesson in Black History” and that Donald Trump has much to learn from Frederick Douglass. First off that he’s no longer with us… Prof. Krugman, in “Springtime for Scammers,” says they’re making financial predators great again. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Last week at a supposed Black History Month “listening session” at the White House, Donald Trump made this baffling statement: “I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
It sounded a bit like he thought the inimitable Douglass, who died in 1895, was some lesser-known black leader who was still alive.
When Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked what Trump meant by his Douglass comments, Spicer responded:
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
Assuming that the “he” in that sentence refers to Douglass, these numbskulls are actually referring to him as a living person and have absolutely no clue who Douglass is and what he means to America.
Social media had a field day with this, relentlessly mocking the team, but for me the emotion was overwhelming sadness: How could the American “president” or a White House press secretary, or any American citizen for that matter, not know who Douglass is?
Let’s be absolutely clear here: Frederick Douglass is a singular, towering figure of American history. The entire legacy of black intellectual thought and civil rights activism flows in some way through Douglass, from W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to President Barack Obama himself.
Douglass was one of the most brilliant thinkers, writers and orators America has ever produced. Furthermore, he harnessed and mastered the media of his day: Writing an acclaimed autobiography, establishing his own newspaper and becoming the most photographed American of the 19th century.
Put another way: If modern social media existed during Douglass’s time, he would have been one of its kings.
Douglass also was a friend of Susan B. Anthony and an advocate for women’s civil rights as well as the civil rights of black people, understanding even then the intersectionality of oppressions. In fact, the motto of his newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color — God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”
But perhaps one of the best reasons Trump and Spicer need to bone up on Douglass is to understand his relationship with Abraham Lincoln and to get a better sense of what true leadership looks like.
Douglass was a blistering critic of Lincoln from the beginning. In Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address, he quoted from one of his previous speeches in which he had said “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” and he went on to defend the Fugitive Slave Act, promising the slave states full enforcement of it as long as it was on the books.
This incensed Douglass, who said of the remarks: “Not content with the broadest recognition of the right of property in the souls and bodies of men in the slave states, Mr. Lincoln next proceeds, with nerves of steel, to tell the slaveholders what an excellent slave hound he is.”
Although Douglass’s cutting critique of Lincoln began to soften after Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass continued to be unhappy throughout the Civil War about the unequal treatment of black soldiers in the Union Army. But even in the midst of this criticism, Lincoln entertained Douglass at the White House.
Although Douglass wasn’t fully satisfied with Lincoln’s positions, Douglass remarked of the meeting: “Mr. Lincoln listened with earnest attention and with very apparent sympathy, and replied to each point in his own peculiar, forcible way.”
This stands in stark contrast to Trump’s avoidance of black intellectuals and even any real critics. Trump’s “listening session” seemed to be populated only by his black appointees and supporters.
Lincoln and Douglass would go on to develop a genuine friendship and Douglass would become something of Lincoln’s conscience on the slave issue. In fact, Lincoln called Douglass “one of the most meritorious men, if not the most meritorious man, in the United States.”
That is what leadership and growth look like. Lincoln grew from the association with and counsel from his onetime critic, to become one of the greatest presidents America has ever known.
Indeed Black History Month began not as a month but a week: Negro History week, the second week of February. It was established in 1926 by noted black historian Carter G. Woodson, and choosing February was no coincidence: It honored the birthdays of Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and Douglass, who helped direct his conscience.
Trump would do well to study this history; he has much to learn from it. As the historian Woodson’s personal motto went: “It’s never too late to learn.”
Trump study? When pigs fly. Here’s Prof. Krugman:
People keep saying that Donald Trump is a populist. I do not think that word means what they think it means.
OK, it’s true that our so-called president — hey, if he can say that about a judge who ruled against him, surely we can say that about him — is channeling the racism and bigotry of some ordinary Americans, and in so doing sticking it to squeamish elites that take the Constitution both seriously and literally. But so far his economic policies are all about empowering ethically challenged businesses to cheat and exploit the little guy.
In particular, he and his allies in Congress are making it a priority to unravel financial reform — and specifically the parts of financial reform that protect consumers against predators.
Last week Mr. Trump released a memorandum calling on the Department of Labor to reconsider its new “fiduciary rule,” which requires financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests — as opposed to, say, steering them into investments on which the advisers get big commissions. He also issued an executive order designed to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform, enacted in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Both moves are very much in line with the priorities of congressional Republicans and, of course, the financial industry. For both groups really, really hate financial regulation, especially when it helps protect families against sharp practice.
Why, after all, was the fiduciary rule created? The main issue here is retirement savings — the 401(k)’s and other plans that are Americans’ main source of retirement income over and above Social Security. To invest these funds, people have turned to financial professionals — but most probably weren’t aware that these professionals were under no legal obligation to give advice that maximized clients’ returns rather than their own incomes.
This is a big deal. A 2015 Obama administration study concluded that “conflicted investment advice” has been reducing the return on retirement savings by around one percentage point, costing ordinary Americans around $17 billion each year. Where has that $17 billion been going? Largely into the pockets of various financial-industry players. And now we have a White House trying to ensure that this game goes on.
On Dodd-Frank: Republicans would like to repeal the whole law, but probably don’t have the votes. What they can do is try to cripple enforcement, especially by undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose goal is to protect ordinary families from financial scams.
Unlike other parts of Dodd-Frank, which are supposed to reduce the risk of a future financial crisis — and won’t be fully tested until the next major shock hits — the bureau is designed to deal with problems that afflict consumers in good times and bad. And by all accounts it has been a huge success, increasing transparency, reducing fees, and exposing fraud. Remember the Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank was found to have signed millions of customers up for accounts, credit cards, and services without their consent or knowledge? This scandal only came to light thanks to the bureau.
So why are consumer protections in the Trump firing line?
Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs banker appointed to head Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council — populism! — says that the fiduciary rule is like “putting only healthy food on the menu” and denying people the right to eat unhealthy food if they want it. Of course, it doesn’t do anything like that. If you want a better analogy, it’s like preventing restaurants from claiming that their 1400-calorie portions are health food.
Mr. Trump offers a different explanation for his hostility to financial reform: It’s hurting credit availability. “I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money.” It would be interesting to learn what these “nice businesses” are. What we do know is that U.S. banks have generally shunned Mr. Trump’s own businesses — from which, by the way, he hasn’t separated himself at all — perhaps because of his history of defaults.
Other would-be borrowers, however, don’t seem to be having problems. Only 4 percent of the small firms surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business report themselves unsatisfied with loan availability, a historic low. Overall bank lending in the United States has been quite robust since Dodd-Frank was enacted.
So what’s motivating the attack on financial regulation? Well, there’s a lot of money at stake — money that the financial industry has been extracting from unwitting, unprotected consumers. Financial reform was starting to roll back these abuses, but we clearly now have a political leadership determined to roll back the rollback. Make financial predation great again!