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Konopacki 5/8/2019

During Donald Trump's two-plus years as president, this column has pointed out the many ways this poor excuse for a leader is not making America great again despite the unimaginative slogan and those silly red baseball caps.

Instead, he has spent his time in office chipping away at America's greatness. Whether it's the environment, the desperate fight against climate change, the enforcement of anti-trust laws, relations with our allies or just simply trust in our justice system, Trump and his gang of incompetents have turned back the clock on decades of progress.

One of the prime examples I've frequently pointed out is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an outgrowth of the reforms put in place by the Obama administration following the Wall Street-induced Great Recession.

Just how bad this dismantling of a government agency aimed at protecting consumers from financial fraud and unfair business practices has been was documented in a recent New York Times Magazine piece entitled — no, not Make America Great Again — but "Make America Pay Again."

The report by investigative reporter Nicholas Confessore exposes how the sarcastic and cocky Mick Mulvaney got Trump's blessing to be the interim director of the new agency after its first director, former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, a Barack Obama appointee, decided to retire.

To put Mulvaney — who also was Trump's budget director — in charge was ludicrous on its face. As a bomb-throwing Tea Party congressman from South Carolina, Mulvaney, now Trump's chief of staff, fought hard to kill the CFPB's formation. The bureau was the brainchild of then-consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren before she became a U.S. senator.

After years of research, Warren concluded that consumers often got in over their heads not because they were greedy or lacked self-discipline, but because sophisticated predatory lenders could easily outmatch them. She convinced Congress and Obama that financial institutions needed an independent watchdog to push back on exorbitant banking fees, usurious interest rates and other unfair practices, that in many cases,./ were illegal in the first place.

During the fight to create the CFPB, then-South Carolina congressman Mulvaney called the CFPB a "joke" in a "sick, sad kind of way" and described it as a "rogue agency." He didn't mention, of course, that financial interests and especially the notorious payday loan industry were his big campaign contributors.

Putting a person like Mulvaney in charge of an agency that he despises is apparently Trump's idea of making America great again. He's done so with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and countless other smaller agencies since becoming president.

The American people may not be fully aware of it yet, but Trump's dissembling of rules and regulations on everything from creating a level playing field between financiers and consumers to protecting clean water and air will come back to haunt them in the not too distant future.

Mulvaney's first and major contribution to Trump's "MAGA" hoax was to free the payday lenders from rules that Cordray had scheduled to go into effect capping interest rates and fees that the payday cabal could charge their borrowers, most of them the most financially vulnerable.

Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts, for example, showed that the average payday customer paid $55 in fees to borrow $375 for two weeks when the customer's next paycheck arrived. Most of the loans went to pay for things like rent or the utility bill.

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Most, of course, couldn't come up with the $375 next payday and were forced to roll over the loan for two more weeks, and then again and again. This became particularly acute during the Great Recession of '07 and '08. Interests rates typically averaged 600 percent on an annual basis. In short, as Confessore pointed out, the payday loan outfits earned a fortune from the working poor.

Mulvaney and, by extension, Trump, obviously don't see a problem with that, in effect proclaiming it's OK for the big guys to fleece the poor. The poor don't write big campaign checks, after all.

And that, folks, is just one way how Trump and his gang of pliant followers are making America great again.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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