Gary Cohn’s Exit Won’t Make This Administration Any Better

Gary Cohn’s Exit Won’t Make This Administration Any Better


Gary Cohn responding to a question from the news media during the White House daily briefing at the White House in September, 2017.

Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency

In an administration filled with people with dubious ideas, limited experience and loads of ethical baggage, Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who became the top economics official in the Trump White House, was supposed to be among the sensible adults in the room. Now, he is leaving after failing repeatedly to be the stabilizing influence that the Trump administration sorely needed.

Many critics of Mr. Trump are already cheering Mr. Cohn’s departure. Indeed, he has done an awful job. His chief accomplishment was helping pass a tax cut that will benefit wealthy people like himself while adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt for future generations to pay off. Mr. Cohn’s other pet project — to develop a plan to rebuild American infrastructure — produced a shambolic proposal that is going nowhere in Congress. Last summer, Mr. Cohn, displayed moral poverty by refusing to quit the administration while simultaneously alerting friends and the media that he was very upset when Mr. Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” after neo-Nazis and white supremacists clashed with protesters, leaving a young woman dead, in Charlottesville, Va.

And then there is the proximate cause for his actual departure: his failure to keep President Trump from imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which will hurt American allies and domestic industries that use those metals.

Yet, for all his flaws, Mr. Cohn most likely represents the high-water mark for economic thinking in this administration. The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, another former Goldman banker, sent currency markets reeling recently when he talked flippantly about weakening the dollar. Kevin Hassett, who is the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has peddled nonsense about how the corporate tax cut will increase wages for working families when in fact most credible experts rightly predicted that it would principally benefit investors. In another corner, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, and Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser, are goading the president to start a destructive trade war with the rest of the world.

With the cranks and nationalists ascendant in Trump World, whoever replaces Mr. Cohn is unlikely to be any better than he is, and possibly quite a bit worse. No sound economist would risk his or her reputation by working in this administration. Since before even taking office, Mr. Trump has reeled from one scandal to the next. Recent weeks have brought a parade of senior officials departing, most under a cloud of suspicion. The first-year turnover among senior staff members in the Trump administration is significantly higher than for the past five presidents and is double the rate for the first year of the Reagan administration, the previous record-holder, according to the Brookings Institution.

Of course, Mr. Trump is adamant that there is no chaos in his administration. He just has “some people that I want to change” in the interest of “seeking perfection” — that will surely stop the hemorrhaging.

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