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.
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