It says a lot about the level of public discourse in Donald Trump’s America that this is what things have come to: a Jewish Treasury Secretary defending a president against accusations of supporting Nazism.
Trump’s chaotic press conference following the deadly Charlottesville terrorist attack sparked widespread, bipartisan outrage, as Trump appeared to equate violent white supremacists marching to anti-Semitic chants with counter-protesters.
In the aftermath, nearly 400 Yale University classmates of Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary and a former Goldman Sachs banker, signed a letter strongly urging him to resign.
“We call upon you, as our friend, our classmate, and as a fellow American, to resign in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy. We know you are better than this, and we are counting on you to do the right thing,” the letter read.
Not only did Mnuchin not heed the contents, he put out a statement actively defending his boss.
“While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form, believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” Mnuchin wrote.
“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate, and I believe that having highly talented men and women in our country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and all the American people,” he added.
Gary Cohn, head of the president’s National Economic Council, was the other top Jewish White House official who stood next to Trump as he wavered in strongly condemning neo-Nazis publicly. The New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources, that Cohn was upset, but he clearly has not been rattled enough to leave the job or condemn Trump.
Cohn is widely seen as Trump’s preferred candidate to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair when her term expires in February of 2018.