Why is Bank of America Helping Trump?

When the history books finally close on this disgraceful administration, the greatest curiosity will not surround Trump and his immediate associates. their motives and incentives are depressingly obvious. Rather, just as with the history of the Third Reich and other despotic regimes, much of the focus will be on their enablers: the members of congress, communications flacks, think tank wonks and lobbyist hacks who all could have blown the whistles and gummed up the works but chose instead of help grease the wheels.

But it’s not just the government and government-adjacent employees who serve as enablers. It’s also a major segment of corporate America. For instance, much of the brutality being waged against immigrants on the border is being conducted by private subcontractors, as David Dayen writes in an In These Times piece that is on newsstands but not yet online. ICE actually does very little of its grim work in house, but outsources it to the private sector per the dominant ideology du jour.

And it’s not just the contract-dependent minnows of the corporate world. It’s the also some of the biggest behemoths on the block. In one such case, Bank of America has been cooperating with the Trump administration’s efforts to strip longtime citizens and legal residents of their rights, in this case by freezing their bank accounts:

Locked out of his account, Moshfegh couldn’t pay his rent, which was due that week. Credit card payments were suddenly rejected.

His case isn’t unique. In recent months, Bank of America has been accused of freezing or threatening to freeze customers’ accounts after asking about their legal status in the United States. In July, the Kansas City Star reported on a couple who had been locked out of their accounts after Bank of America questioned whether the account holders were U.S. citizens or dual citizens.

According to the Star, Kansas-born Josh Collins received an unusual-looking letter purportedly from the bank asking about his citizenship status. He said he thought the mailer was spam and ignored it—only to have his account frozen a few weeks later.

After Collins’ story was reported, he and his wife received messages from others who had been locked out of their accounts for weeks, the Star reported.

Tennessee native David Lewis says he received the same suspicious-looking letter as Collins. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Lewis said he has maintained an account with Bank of America for about 30 years. In the letter, the bank inquired about his citizenship, income and Social Security number.

The legal fig leaf under which this is being done is that certain immigrants may have a higher propensity toward certain kinds of violations. It’s also likely that the Treasury Department is pressuring banks into flagging and freezing these accounts as part of the Trump administration’s overall discriminatory attitude. But this is a farce, especially given what we’ve seen from lax to nonexistent enforcement of a broad swath of white-collar crime. If U.S. banks didn’t manage to flag the obviously illegal actions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, it seems ridiculous to be freezing the comparatively tiny accounts of immigrants and longstanding citizens just on the evidence-free suspicion of potential malfeasance based only on their identity and origin.

As it is, justice organizations are pressuring Bank of America to stop this activity.

Beyond that, though, the big banks–beyond their actions that leading up to and in the wake of the financial crisis–are also enabling some of the worst actors in the realm of institutionalized racism, including and especially in the form of private prisons. Private prisons essentially could not operate without financing of major financial institutions, which enable the widespread abuse of people of color.

Holding the big banks accountable is often seen as merely the province of a subsection of socialist economic justice advocates on the left. But it’s also an enormously important part of social and racial justice, not just for the obvious reason that economic exploitation of the underprivileged falls mostly on women and people of color, but also because the big banks are directly complicit in the architecture of institutionalized racism–both in its longstanding forms, and in the more recent aggravations and outrages of the Trump administration.

And the advantage of a focus on their activities is that the Donald Trump and Stephen Miller don’t care a whit what those on the left think, and neither do the Congressmembers who enable them. Major corporations, however, can and do respond to pressure from the current and growing majority of decent people who do care. Eroding the support structures of institutionalized racism could prove a faster and more effective way of dealing with the problem than attempting to shame bigots into better behavior.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.