Americans did not all suffer the same through the Great Recession, sparked in 2008 when Lehman Brothers finally went under, and some did not suffer in the least.
As the ten-year anniversary of that fateful day quietly came and went Saturday, Politico noted that President Donald Trump and his top financial advisers exited the financial crisis virtually unscathed — and, unlike their average fellow citizens, some of them even wealthier than when it began.
Steven Mnuchin, now Treasury secretary, led a group of investors who bought a failed thrift with government help and then sold it at a profit. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, then CEO of a buyout firm, also made money from U.S.-backed purchases of failed banks. Former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, then president of Goldman Sachs, once touted that the investment bank brought in $373 million in a single day betting against the mortgage market.
And Trump himself crowed about the investment opportunities that lay ahead on the eve of Wall Street's collapse.
"People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I'm excited if it is," Trump said in a 2007 interview. "I've always made more money in bad markets than in good markets."
Elite players such as Trump, Politico notes, viewed the financial meltdown — which in not quite three years cost $19 trillion in household wealth and 8.8 million jobs — as a potential boon.
And while personal financial ruin may have led many disillusioned voters to sweep Trump into office years later, his administration is filled with people who profited from the crisis and whose policies are shaped by that background, focused largely on market performance instead of the economic needs of workers.
"The people who were for whatever reason insulated from the catastrophic consequences of the crash or made money off of it ... have a very, at best, skewed understanding of what happened and why it happened," said Dennis Kelleher, head of the nonprofit Better Markets, which advocates for tougher financial regulation.
"The problem with people like this is that they think that what's good for Wall Street or high finance is good for America," he said. "The crash proved that what could be incredibly good for Wall Street was in fact incredibly bad for America."
Mnuchin, who together with investors including billionaires John Paulson and George Soros, snapped up failed mortgage lender IndyMac, renaming the financial institution OneWest.
It was widely reported in 2016, when Trump announced Mnuchin was under consideration to lead the Treasury Department, that OneWest foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans’ homes while under his direction.
There was also the time he literally forced people out of their homes while he was running OneWest, the lender he sold last year for a personal gain of several millions of dollars. As Bloomberg previously reported, OneWest “carried out more than 36,000 foreclosures during Mnuchin’s reign,” earning the bank a reputation as a “foreclosure machine.”
The magazine listed off several Ebenezer Scrooge-like actions Mnuchin took against homeowners struggling to weather the financial crisis:
• Changing the locks on Leslie Parks’s Minneapolis house, during a blizzard.
• Allegedly refusing to negotiate with Greg Horoski and his wife, Diane Yano-Horoski, when the couple fell behind on payments due to Horoski getting sick; treating them, in the words of Judge Jeffrey Spinner, to “mortifying abuse”; and generally acting in a manner that was not only “inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious” but also “harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive.” (OneWest commented at the time, “We respectfully disagree with the lower court’s unprecedented ruling,” which wiped out the $525,000 the couple owed in mortgage payments. It also claimed it had been “extremely active in working with consumers on home loan modifications through the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program and other loan modification initiatives.”)
• Allegedly sending a homeowner’s name to a debt collector who proceeded to “call her 81 times in a single day.”
• And the pièce de résistance: reportedly foreclosing on a 90-year-old woman, Ossie Lofton, who owed the bank 30 cents but sent a check for 3 cents.