Donald Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2015. (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 3.0)

This piece first appeared at Moyers & Company. Right after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, I flew off to Australia and New Zealand to attend a conference and take some vacation time. At the end of the long flight, when I got to Sydney, I picked up one of the local newspapers and read that the president-elect had chosen Rahm Emanuel, poster boy for corporate Democrats and the status quo, to be his chief of staff. Uh-oh, I thought. If Obama was choosing him to guide his administration, we probably could say goodbye to any dreams of a New Deal-style, aggressive agenda to cure the ills of our country. Emanuel was less the type to Keep Hope Alive and more the guy who holds Hope at arm’s length with a blackjack threatening in the other hand. You will know our presidents and presidential candidates by the company they keep. Just as Obama had Rahm and a gaggle of Wall Street Democrats advising him how to step away from the fiscal crisis without putting any of the guilty banksters in jail, so, too, have all our chief executives and nominees had their coteries. Andrew Jackson had his kitchen cabinet, FDR his Brain Trust, JFK and LBJ their Best and Brightest, Nixon his Palace Guard – even Warren Harding had his poker pals, although that den of thieves reportedly led him to complain to the famous newspaper editor William Allen White, “I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my goddamned friends, White, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor nights!” And now, here comes Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee and thug-in-a-nice-suit. If for some reason you aren’t already appalled by the specter of a con artist occupying the Oval Office, a man who would lie about what he had for breakfast, look to those with whom he has chosen to surround himself. Start with political dirty trickster and sleaze merchant Roger Stone, the man first introduced to Trump by Joe McCarthy acolyte Roy Cohn. Stone has had a thirty-year, on-again, off-again relationship with the candidate and was publicly fired from Trump’s campaign staff last summer but still seems to be an unofficial advisor and mouthpiece. Then there’s the abrasive campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, best known for that March incident with now former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields who said he roughly grabbed her when she tried to ask Trump a question. A charge of simple battery was dismissed. But Stone and Lewandowski are small potatoes compared to some of the new hires Trump has brought aboard since he clinched the nomination and expressed the desire to appear more presidential. Let’s start with Steven Mnuchin, now national finance chairman, chief fundraiser for a man who used to claim his campaign was totally self-financed and that he would not need money from outsiders. Mnuchin is a banker and chief executive of the Dune Capital Management hedge fund – remember, Trump has lashed out at hedge funds, calling them “guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.” He’s also a former Goldman Sachs employee and Trump has gone after Goldman, too, including Hillary Clinton’s association with it. Among his other accomplishments, The Wall Street Journal reported, with its characteristic wonder at such financial legerdemain, “Mr. Mnuchin turned one of the biggest bank failures ever, IndyMac Bank, into a very lucrative investment for himself and a consortium that included some of the billboard names on Wall Street, including [George] Soros, hedge-fund manager John Paulson, and J. Christopher Flowers. IndyMac Bank, based in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed in the summer of 2008 as customers grew concerned about its souring mortgages and withdrew deposits. It was the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history at the time. The group bought IndyMac from the government for about $1.5 billion in early 2009 and eventually sold it to a larger bank for a more than $3 billion gain.” But at The Nation magazine, Peter Dreier says there’s more to the story: “The FDIC was so desperate to unload IndyMac that Mnuchin and his colleagues were able to obtain, as part of the purchase deal, a so-called ‘shared loss’ agreement from the FDIC which reimbursed these billionaires for much of their costs for foreclosing on people unlucky enough to have mortgages from IndyMac.Within a year, the group that the Los Angeles Times called a ‘billionaires’ club of private financiers’ had paid themselves dividends of $1.57 billion. In other words, the FDIC took much of the risk by subsidizing the bank’s troubled assets, while Mnuchin and his colleagues pocketed the profits.”
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