It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again! Ethics Observations On The Tubman Twenty Delay

A little more than a year ago, Ethics Alarms discussed a controversy over alleged “foot-dragging” by the Trump administration regarding the institution of the planned Harriet Tubman twenty dollar bill:

The latest outrage committed by the Trump Administration is dragging its collective feet and not completing the Obama Administration’s pandering to women and African-Americans—heck, maybe epilepsy sufferers too—by replacing President Andrew Jackson’s likeness with that of Harriet Tubman, the famed Underground Railroad conductor.  Jack Lew, Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, announced the decision to put Tubman on the twenty in April 2016, too late to get the change done. …President Trump didn’t regard this deliberate swipe at the Seventh President, a transformative and important one whether you like it or not, and  the equivalent of  progressive statue-toppling —I didn’t see the connection at the time, because the Great Airbrushing hadn’t started yet, but that’s exactly what it is—as one of his top priorities, or, frankly, a priority at all. This is an outrage, according to a Washington Post editorial, “Mnuchin’s excuse for delaying the Harriet Tubman $20 bill is insulting.” A representative excerpt:

“No one can blame [Lew] for a failure to imagine that any future administration would be so petty and narrow-minded as to go out of its way to thumb its nose at women, minorities and history.”

Of course, removing Jackson is as much nose-thumbing as delaying Tubman’s honor,  and Trump’s resistance to following the usual Democratic racial and gender spoils script is no more political than the Post making this another “Orange Man Bad” manufactured controversy.

I have no problem with putting a female, an African-American, or someone who isn’t a Founder or a President on our currency. I also have no problem with honoring Andrew Jackson, who did as much to define the office as anyone. I also have no problem with President Trump refusing to exert himself to complete a purely political pander to the Democratic base pander by Obama, when Democrats have withheld from him the most basic courtesies and accommodations that any President should be able to expect from the opposing party.

Now it’s a year later, Harriet still isn’t on the twenty, and her honor looks further off than ever. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that a new $20 bill would not be released until 2030 and that a future secretary would have to make the decision about whether Andrew Jackson would be replaced at all. In a news briefing, the Treasury Secretary explained that redesigning the currency required developing complicated anti-counterfeiting technology and a new printing process, and all of that takes many years.

“This is something that is in the distant future,” he said. Mnuchin also said that the currency timelines were set by career officials in an extensive interagency process, with the $10 bill next on the schedule to be redesigned and released in 2026. A Treasury Department spokesperson told reporters that the 2030 timeline was set before 2015 by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve Board and the Secret Service. The decision was  to redesign the $10 and the $50 first because the $20 is the most used bill, thanks to ATM machines. Because it is the most used and is the favorite bill of counterfeiters—remember that it was a fake twenty that George Floyd was allegedly trying to pass before his fatal encounter with the police—the twenty dollar bill requires robust security features and sufficient time to make those security changes.


  • Why are we just learning about the extended time required to roll out the new twenty now? If that’s true, why didn’t the Treasury Department say so last year, when the Post and others were using the issue as another way to push Big Lie #4: “Trump Is A Racist/White Supremacist”?

And if it’s true, why didn’t Jack Lew and the Obama Administration explain this when the Tubman bill was first announced? Was it deliberately withholding the information to avoid disappointing the faithful?

  • This is particularly perplexing if, as Mnuchen says, the schedule had already been set within the Obama Administration…perplexing, but not surprising.

Postponing or withholding bad news and unpleasant facts until the last possible moment was a persistent feature of the Obama years.

  • No, government schedules and responsible handling of such important matters as the design of currency should not be accelerated because Black Lives Matters wants to dictate national policy, though I have no doubt that a Democratic administration would do it.

In Trump’s case, he knows he will get no credit from “the resistance” and the news media for whatever he or his administration does, so there is no reason to adopt the bad policy of changing schedules to appease protesters and rioters.

  • This episode is one more example of how, between broken U.S. journalism and despicable political warfare, it is impossible to know what the real facts are. Here’s Senator Chuck Schumer, race-baiting:

“It says everything you need to know about President Trump’s values that he can’t even do the lightest of lifts to honor Harriet Tubman,” Schumer said in a statement. “He’s refusing to put her portrait on the $20 bill, but he’s continuing to honor Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery.”

What an ass. First, if it’s not as difficult a process as Treasury says, Schumer is obligated to prove it’s a “light lift.” Second, Trump isn’t “refusing” to put her portrait on the twenty. He is refusing to bow to the Democratic Party’s priorities, and the party has done nothing to justify such consideration. Politics works on quid pro quo; whose face is on currency isn’t a matter of great national interest. I’m sure Trump would be willing to trade Andy Jackson for political considerations of his own, if the Democrats were not perpetually trying to impeach him. Finally, believing that the united Staes should not be tearing down statutes and censoring its own history is not an endorsement of slavery.


23 thoughts on “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again! Ethics Observations On The Tubman Twenty Delay


    I think BLM is already well on its way to controlling national policy. I think TC is overmaking the point a bit, but at this point the movement is like the Road Warriors when they first hit the NWA – unstoppable, able to demand anything they want, and totally immune from criticism. Schumer is just riding this wave.

  2. I do seem to recall something being said at the time this redesign became a hot topic about the very long timelines WRT creating new currency designs and getting them into circulation, though I’m unable to find it. It was very similar to your quote at the beginning of the post, that in any case it was going to be a decade before we would see a new design due simply to the basic exigencies of the situation.

    That said, and all politics aside, now making the case that the $10 and $50 bills are higher priority, while in the same breath saying the $20 is the most used and therefore in greater need of security, sounds a bit disingenuous and would seem IMHO to indicate that the $20 ought to be the higher priority. Greater security is always sort of chasing a will-o-the-wisp, anyway, with features that are good for now getting surpassed as counterfeiters work simultaneously to get around them.

    • “…sounds a bit disingenuous and would seem IMHO to indicate that the $20 ought to be the higher priority.”

      I think the idea is that the $10 and $50 bills are the “beta test” of the new security features, giving the Treasury time to analyze how effective those features are in practices and make any needed modifications before the highly-targeted $20 bill goes to print.

    • My takeaway about the $20 versus the $10 and $50 is that, because the $20 is the most-used and most-counterfeited, any redesign would necessarily have a much GREATER need for advanced security features that are not justified on the $10 and $50, which will take much LONGER to plan, design, test, and put into production, thus a longer timeline.

      Putting shorter-term projects in front of longer-term projects is just good project management. Beyond that (and I’m just speculating here), if the work done early on for the updated $10 and $50 translates into a savings of time on the development of the updated $20, then all the better. It means that the updated $10 and $50 can launch sooner while the updated $20 comes out at roughly the same time it would have if you’d launched it first.


  3. Our Faithful Ethicist Posted:

    “And if it’s true, why didn’t Jack Lew and the Obama Administration explain this when the Tubman bill was first announced? Was it deliberately withholding the information to avoid disappointing the faithful?”

    Yes. Obama is a cynic. Obama is a divider. Obama is a horrible human being. He knew that he and his minions would be able to bludgeon society with one more example that this country has continually neglected, ignored, and dismissed the cries of the Black community for complete integration into the culture, which Harriet Tubman’s visage on the $20 bill would help repair.


  4. Easy solution: Put George Floyd on the new twenty. I think he even knew somebody who could do it on a very short timeline!

  5. Umm, lemme see. The Democrats are lining up to attack Trump for everything they can think of, and aren’t letting little things like “facts” get in the way of their assault.

    So you’re telling me this is another Wednesday.

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