Trump Administration Punts Yet Again On Putting Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin punted once again on the question of replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, making clear that any change that does occur won't happen until after Donald Trump is out of office.
In the closing years of the Obama Administration, it was announced that the Treasury Department was considering redesigning American currency by placing a woman on the $10 bill in place of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the who had also served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution. Thanks largely to the popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, though, the plan to replace Hamilton was scrapped and it was announced that the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who later helped to found the Underground Railroad that led escaped slaves to freedom in the 19th Century and later served as a Union agent in the South during the Civil War, would replace former Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. After the Trump Administration took power, though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin seemed to throw cold water on that idea, although it wasn’t clear if the idea was being abandoned entirely. Asked about the issue again last year Mnuchin still would not commit to the idea of making any change to the $20 bill.
Today, the Treasury Secretary made clear that there would be no immediate change to the design of the bill and that any such change likely wouldn’t be seen in circulation until well into the next decade:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin punted again Wednesday when pressed about an Obama-era plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, questioned Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, asking about plans to put the Underground Railroad hero on the bill as part of its redesign.
“I’ve made no decision as it relates to that,” Mnuchin replied.\
He said in response to repeated inquiries from Pressley that he is focused primarily on anti-counterfeiting and security measures, and that he anticipates the new $20 bill would not come out until 2028. He went on to say decisions about the imagery on the $20 bill “will not be an issue that comes up until most likely 2026.”
“It’s not a decision that is likely to come until way past my term even if I serve the second term for the President,” Mnuchin said. “So I am not focused on that at the moment.”
The comments on Wednesday were the latest in a years-long saga to redesign the bill.
President Donald Trump previously slammed the move as “pure political correctness.”
He said that Tubman was “fantastic” and suggested putting her on the $2 bill, which features President Thomas Jefferson, instead.
As President, Trump visited Jackson’s grave and put a portrait of the 19th century populist in the Oval Office.
Mnuchin said in a January 2018 interview that “we haven’t made any decision as to whether we’ll change the bill, or won’t change the bill,” and a Treasury Department spokesperson told CNN this year that Mnuchin’s position remained the same.
As I have said before, replacing Jackson with Tubman would be a measure of justice. Unlike Hamilton, whose place on the $10 bill is apparently secure for now, there is very little about Andrew Jackson that is admirable. In addition to being a slave owner, Jackson was also responsible for the death of thousands of Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and sent on forced migration to what is now Oklahoma on what came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.” While he was President, Jackson defied Supreme Court orders, including orders directly related his policies toward Native Americans. Additionally, Jackson’s position on the Second Bank of the United States was the primary factor behind the Panic of 1837, which sent the United States into one of the most prolonged economic downturns in its history that in many respects was worse than the Great Depression. Tubman, on the other hand, stood against pretty much everything that Jackson stood for, was a genuine hero to anyone who respects what America really stands for and assisted Union forces in the South during the Civil War during several crucial moments in history. If any woman deserves to be honored in this manner, she does, and it would be especially appropriate for her to replace someone like Jackson.
Despite that, the Administration has been slow-walking the decision made before it took office. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the fact thatthe President seems to have some kind of weird affinity for him:
Andrew Jackson was a slaveholder, a populist and an emotionally volatile man who fought in as many as 100 duels during his lifetime.
Naturally, Donald Trump has great admiration for him.
In fact, Trump—despite his gaping and well-demonstrated ignorance of American history—has developed an unusual fixation with the seventh president. In January, Trump described Jackson as “an amazing figure in American history—very unique [in] so many ways” and hung a portrait of the early president in the Oval Office. And on Monday, during an interview with Salena Zito, a host on SiriusXM, Trump made some of his most mystifying historical proclamations to date: He claimed that Jackson might have been able to stop the Civil War. (Jackson died in 1845, a decade and a half before the war broke out.)
Why does Trump like to compare himself to Jackson? Maybe because so many of his allies made a point of positioning Trump as a successor of Jackson, usually as a way of beefing up his populist credentials.
“Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon said in an interview shortly after Trump’s victory. Newt Gingrich invoked Jackson’s name way back in August, touting Trump’s psychological capabilities by saying that he’s “at least as reliable as Andrew Jackson.” And here’s Rudy Giuliani on election night: “This is like Andrew Jackson’s victory. This is the people beating the establishment.” (Trump surrogates don’t tend to mention the ethnic cleansing stuff.)
Though he boasts constantly of his wealth (and favors a tax plan that would mostly aid the wealthy), Trump clearly likes to be thought of as a champion of the “forgotten man”—and comparing himself to Jackson gives him a historical antecedent that he probably finds flattering. It legitimizes his presidency. Jackson is on the $20 bill. Despite the more despicable aspects of his legacy, he remains reasonably popular among historians. (Though his popularity is sliding, and some are blaming Trump for that.)
The temperamental similarities between the two men are significant, though less commonly remarked upon. Andrew Jackson was known to be vengeful, violent and obsessed with his honor. He fought in dozens of duels and once killed a man who called him “a worthless scoundrel.” (During one of these duels he was shot in the chest, yet carried on and killed his rival.) He was quoted as saying he had two regrets from his presidency: “that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.” Trump is similarly unstable and obsessed with his enemies, though he generally prefers insulting people on Twitter to fighting duels. Maybe if Twitter was around in 1830 Jackson could have just done that instead of shooting people who pissed him off.00
Trump also displayed that weird affinity, and an odd view of history, on other occasions:
This is hardly the most serious issues facing the nation, but it does provide an insight into this President and explains a lot about how he has governed as President. Over the past two years, Trump has clearly operated in the spirit of Jacksonian populism, usually in the worst possible way. Like his campaign, Trump has portrayed himself as a champion of the “common man” notwithstanding the fact that his Cabinet is full of elites from the worlds of banking, business, and Wall Street. On the campaign trail, though, Trump has presented himself as the same kind of populist that Jackson was, and he’s engaged in the same kind of battles with Congress, the media, and the Courts that Jackson did. The only difference between the two seems to be that Trump at least appears to recognize that he has to comply with Court orders no matter how much he disagrees with them, but one could argue that his continued efforts to undermine the Russia investigation are akin to Jackson’s defiance of the Supreme Court. Additionally, his open contempt for the media mimics the attitude that Jackson took toward his own critics of the day, right down to the name calling and the accusations of disloyalty. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Trump is the most Jacksonian President we’ve had since Jackson himself, and that’s not a good thing. In any case, given the fact that we’ve got a President who not only admires Jackson but openly emulates him, the odds that he’ll allow his hero to be removed from the $20 bill are pretty slim.