“I don’t even say his name,” the finance bro told me as we made awkward small talk at the birthday party. Not that we would need to. He’s Donald J. Drumpf, Adolf Twitler, Covfefe in Chief, and whatever else the #Resistance has come up with to avoid directly referring to its own personal Voldemort.
“Finance bro” isn’t a fair description for my conversation partner, though. He looked more like a millennial version of Tim Geithner, and as we were talking I couldn’t help thinking about the former Treasury Secretary, who has done quite well for himself since leaving office. There’s been a best-selling memoir, a lectureship at Yale, and, since March 2014, a position as president of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus. That last piece of news might sound familiar. Last summer, it was revealed that one of Warburg Pincus’s subsidiaries mass-mails checks to potential clients, who the firm hopes will overlook their exorbitant interest fees. In the words of a former employee, it’s a way of “monetizing poor people.”
In a better world, Geithner would have been shamed out of public life. In this world, it’s a bullet bouncing off Superman. Because, of course, he’s not alone. According to an investigation from the Washington Post, 30 percent of the lawmakers and 40 percent of the senior staffers who designed the legislative response to the 2008 crash now earn their living in the financial sector, promoting the interests of the people they used to regulate.
I wonder how this group talks about Trump. It’s an odd thing, how the people who most aggressively perform their personal disgust with Trump—“I don’t even say his name”—also seem to be the ones most likely to have received a hefty tax cut. But if the system was already working for you, returning to normalcy must be an appealing prospect. Just remove the Trump-sized tumor from the body politic, and the patient will be healthy again.
This was the Clinton campaign’s message, too. It’s even less plausible today than it was in 2016. Now Democrats have taken to arguing that Trump is both uniquely toxic and the product of a dysfunctional Republican Party. Although that’s closer to the truth, it’s not there yet. Yes, Trump is toxic; yes, the Republicans are dysfunctional. But there’s a reason why so many voters have lost faith in the party that put Tim Geithner in charge of the Treasury Department. The real debate should be over whether there’s a cure for a disease that’s infected the entire political establishment. I think the answer is yes, but only if we acknowledge the scope of the challenge. If that reckoning does not take place, then President Cheeto—sorry, I mean Donald Trump—will be the least of our problems.
Timothy Shenk is co-editor of Dissent.