Treasury Secretary and Customer Who Wants His Pancakes Made With Just Plain Wheat Germ Steve Mnuchin was asked a pretty simple question in a CNBC interview Thursday. But because he is Steve Mnuchin, he gave a spectacularly dumb answer:
Q: Secretary Lew, before you, your predecessor, supported the idea of removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and putting Harriet Tubman on it. Do you support that idea?
MNUCHIN: Well let me just comment on, uh, ultimately we will be looking at this issue. It's not something I'm focused on at the moment.
Sometimes I think Trump cabinet members — Rex Tillerson is another who comes to mind — are just shocked, shocked I tell you, that being public officials means they occasionally have to answer politically themed questions from the public.
The issue of putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is certainly not one that just came up.
Jack Lew, former President Barack Obama's treasury secretary, worked for over a year on redesigning some of the nation's currency to incorporate women and people of color, none of whom have ever been featured on a bill or a coin. It was a significant way of honoring representatives of traditionally marginalized populations for the contributions they have made to American history.
I'm betting Lew was also concerned about counterfeiting as well. Is Mnuchin incapable of considering two separate but important issues related to the production of the nation's banknotes? Or is so much of the space in his head taken up trying to remember what brands of clothing his wife is wearing that he simply can't contemplate both cultural and security issues related to money at the same time?
More from Mnuchin:
“But the No. 1 issue, why we change the currency, is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of why we change it will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes. And I've received classified briefings on that, and that's what I'm focused on for the moment.”
Sure, that's important, too. But again, it's a separate issue. Unless Tubman's visage appearing on the $20 bill is somehow a security threat.
God bless the interviewer for trying again:
Q: But certainly there are cultural aspects as to decisions we make as to who's on what bills, right?
MNUCHIN: Again, people have been on the bills for a long period of time. This is something we'll consider. Right now we've got a lot more important issues to focus on.
As it happens, Mnuchin's boss, Donald Trump, was asked about this issue when Lew first announced the change to the $20 bill during last year's presidential campaign, and his answer might be a clue as to why Mnuchin can't just give a straight answer:
“Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it's very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country.”
Jackson also was a tremendous racist who committed genocide against Native Americans. As scholarship of him as evolved, that fact has tarnished his reputation somewhat. Which is why activists cheered when President Obama decided to remove him from the $20 bill and replace his image with one of those he oppressed.
History is complex. Our views change. It's not that tough.
Trump further expounded on his view:
“I don't like seeing it. Yes, I think it's pure political correctness.”
There you have it. After revering Andrew Jackson for 200 years, honoring someone else for a change is “pure political correctness,” and Trump will not be bothered with such nonsense. Which means Mnuchin can't be bothered with it either, lest he get the Jeff Sessions treatment in public.
I don't know what the big deal is. If Trump wants to admire Jackson's face, he can just look at the portrait he hung on the wall of the Oval Office.
Watch Trump talk about taking Jackson off the $20 bill below.