WASHINGTON ― Democrats used to see Jamie Dimon as one of the good guys on Wall Street. Once hailed as a “progressive” by The New Republic, the JPMorgan Chase CEO counted himself friends with two different chiefs of staff to President Barack Obama and traveled to the first black White House no less than 16 times. In 2009, The New York Times described him as “Obama’s favorite banker.” He has publicly supported same-sex marriage and the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Dimon gave hundreds of thousands to Democratic Party candidates, the party itself, and even the Center for American Progress, a think tank advancing the ideas of Bill Clinton and Obama.
But there was Dimon on Friday, sitting at a table surrounded by other wealthy corporate executives, being praised by President Donald Trump ― a man who publicly supports war crimes and is already flirting with a constitutional crisis as he implements a campaign promise to impose “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
“There’s nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie,” Trump said, smiling and pointing his finger at Dimon. Within hours, the president had signed an executive order calling for federal agencies to scour a 2010 Wall Street reform law for regulations that could be nullified.
True to Trump’s reality TV background, the day was more pageantry than policy. He doesn’t need a press conference and an executive order to void Obama’s regulations. He can simply appoint regulators who quietly fail to enforce them.
But there was important symbolic meaning to Trump’s daylong celebration of Wall Street. The president was telling America that Dimon and the other CEOs assembled in Washington were on his team, united in the same cause as chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Those concerned that Trump is pursuing a white nationalist agenda by deliberately attempting to provoke global military conflict can rest easy after Friday: Responsible financiers, including Jamie Dimon, are at the table.
In a statement provided to HuffPost, JPMorgan Chase recoiled at the idea that Dimon is enthusiastic about Trump’s full policy platform. “It’s absurd to equate speaking constructively with someone to endorsing all of their views,” bank spokesman Andrew Gray said.
Few would insist Dimon agrees with Trump on every issue. But that is not the pressing moral issue of the day. The question is whether political and commercial elites will allow themselves to be co-opted by the Trump regime in pursuit of their own narrow interests. Dimon’s attendance on Friday, and a host of recent enthusiastic comments he has made about the Trump administration, demonstrate he cares more about bank deregulation than the persecution of minorities.
Dimon can make loads of money from the evisceration of Dodd-Frank. There is a reason he opposed creating a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has returned more than $11 billion to families wronged by banks, payday lenders and other firms since its inception. There is a reason he fought efforts to rein in the derivatives market that sank AIG; a reason he blasted the Volcker Rule, which aimed to prevent banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer-backed funding. The profit motive is real, and as Friday’s event showed, it is often more powerful than conscience.
Maybe Democrats should have seen Dimon’s weaknesses earlier. Under his watch, JPMorgan illegally foreclosed on the families of active-duty members of the American military. It pleaded guilty to felony currency manipulation. It paid the federal government more than $1 billion and admitted wrongdoing over its “London Whale” debacle. It paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle charges that it bribed public officials in Alabama, rigged electricity markets in California, and violated economic sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan. The bank has paid out billions and billions of dollars in foreclosure fraud settlements.
Dimon wasn’t the only CEO slapping backs at the White House. Other members of Trump’s official “Strategic and Policy Forum” include Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger and billionaire Steven Schwarzman, who once likened a modest Obama tax hike on the wealthy to “when Hitler invaded Poland.” Some attendees were even more aggressive supporters of the Democratic Party than Dimon once was. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink was a longtime Hillary Clinton backer and a rumored contender for treasury secretary. Trump gave him a shout-out in front of the cameras. “Where is Larry?” Trump cracked, laughing until he spotted the mega-millionaire a few seats away. “He managed a lot of my money, and I gotta tell ya, he got me great returns, Larry.”
This scene was the end result of the Democratic Party’s decision to ally itself with Wall Street in the 1990s. Bill Clinton’s economic agenda focused on turning over large swaths of the American political project to the financial sector. From welfare reform to the North American Free Trade Agreement to the repeal of Glass-Steagall to the slashing of capital gains taxes, the Democratic Party’s policy agenda fused with the interests of Wall Street. Most party leaders were happy to go along ― lots of elite bankers were clearly in the tank for Republicans, but some seemed like really good guys.
“There are good banks and bad banks just like there are good politicians and bad politicians,” Dimon once told The New Republic.
The financial crisis of 2008 was a direct descendant of the Democratic alliance with the banking world. NAFTA and World Trade Organization treaties flooded the U.S. with foreign capital just as the U.S. government deregulated what banks could do with that money. After a festival of fraud on Wall Street, Obama went easy on the financial sector, refusing to prosecute bankers for criminal wrongdoing.
In thanks, many of those “fat cats” who once swore allegiance to the Democratic party are now allying themselves with Trump and Bannon.
At the 1936 Democratic National Convention, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that “government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.” Somewhere along the way, Democrats unlearned that lesson. American democracy may pay a terrible price.