Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin ’85 reaffirmed his allegiance to President Donald Trump on Saturday in response to an open letter signed by fellow graduates of the Yale College class of 1985 urging him to resign in protest of recent comments made by the president.
Mnuchin responded to the letter, which garnered signatures from more than 370 of his classmates, in a statement shared via Twitter. Circulated on Friday, the letter condemned Trump’s remarks regarding a rally held last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which the President placed blame on “many sides” after clashes between far-right hate groups and counter-protesters resulted in the deaths of two state troopers and one woman last Saturday. The letter asked Mnuchin to put politics aside to “do the right thing” and stand up to Trump, who the letter labels a sympathizer of Nazism and white supremacy.
In his response, Mnuchin condemned the events in Charlottesville and said he believed Trump deserved the opportunity to push his agenda without distractions from his opponents.
“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,” Mnuchin said in the statement.
— Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) August 20, 2017
Mnuchin’s statement also denounced “the actions of those filled with hate and with the intent to harm others” and asserted that neither Mnuchin nor the President had defended these actions. Mnuchin drew upon his own Jewish background to support the President, stating that the President “in no way, shape or form believes that neo-nazis and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways.”
The controversy that ultimately led to the violence last Saturday revolved around a statue of Robert E. Lee that the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove from the city’s Emancipation Park in February. In a press conference Tuesday, Trump defended the statue, arguing that eliminating monuments to slaveholders sets a dangerous precedent. Trump’s remarks closely resemble the argument used by many opponents of the University’s recent decision to rechristen Calhoun College — a similarity Mnuchin picked up in his statement.
“As a Yale graduate and a member of what used to be known as Calhoun College (prior to its name change), I am familiar with the culture wars being fought in our country and the impact it is having on many people, with different views of how history should be remembered,” Mnuchin said. “Some of these issues are far more complicated that we are led to believe by the mass media.”
In an email to the News, James Donelan ’85, one of the four alumni who spearheaded the effort to write and disseminate the letter along with Matthew Countryman ’85, Jeffrey Mueller ’85 and Mel Powell ’85, said that he didn’t expect Mnuchin to actually resign, but he wanted to provide him with some rationale that would allow him to quit with “dignity” in case he chose to do so. Donelan emphasized that although Mnuchin did not resign, his response to the letter shows that he felt the need to defend his position as Secretary of the Treasury.
“I can’t recall any other occasion in the entire history of the U.S. when the Treasury Secretary felt he had to justify continuing in his post,” said Donelan.
According to Countryman, the statement, which he called “the most full-throated defense of President Trump’s stance on Charlottesville of anyone in his administration or in the GOP leadership,” has transformed Mnuchin from one of the least visible members of Trump’s administration to one of the president’s most faithful defenders. The only way for Mnuchin to backtrack now is to resign, Countryman added.
In response to their letter, Mueller, who manages the letter’s website, and others have received, along with both love and hate mail, identical letters from various people insisting that they publish Mnuchin’s statement next to their letter on the website. In an email to the News, Mueller wrote that he would grant that request as soon as Mnuchin retweets their letter, side by side with his statement.
Donelan said that although the letter failed to convince Mnuchin to resign, the class of 1985 is going to continue collecting signatures.
“The letter has opened up a really important discussion about what people of good conscience should do when faced with the emergence of radical evil. We’re all going to keep speaking out until we get leadership that will denounce white supremacism unequivocally,” he said.
For Betsy Gleick ’85, who signed the letter and reached out to classmates to accrue signatures, signing the letter was an act of resistance against Trump and his enablers, who she believes have deepened the country’s divisions and empowered hate.
And Powell, who thought the purpose of the letter was to bring attention to the moral imperative to speak out against what he described as Trump’s hate-mongering, deemed the letter a success. The letter was featured in several different media outlets, including the Washington Post, CNN and Reuters.
“Hey, we even got covered in the Yale Daily News!” Powell said.