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September 22, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight

Speak of the Week: Elizabeth Warren and the Wells Fargo Scandal

‘Speak truth to power’, citizens have beseeched their politicians since rapacious Wall Street executives orchestrated the near-collapse of the world’s financial system in 2009, fleecing millions of their life savings while lining their own pockets with untold millions.

Enter Elizabeth Warren. The firebrand U.S. Senator from Massachusetts mercilessly excoriated Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf this week in what must be the most conspicuous and boldest confrontation between a public servant and an untouchable member of the American banking oligarchy in modern times.

Using brutal, common language, and wielding logic like a trial lawyer, Stumpf was pulverized into submissive silence. Warren both exposed the details of a years-long scam that personally netted the CEO over $200,000,000, and deconstructed the utter fallacy of Wells Fargo’s Vision and Values statement, razing him for failing to live up to his claim that he is ‘accountable’ for what had occurred.

Her attack begins within 60 seconds of the hearing’s start, with three razor sharp questions, reminiscent of the gladiator’s trident from the rings of ancient Rome: have you resigned as CEO?; have you paid back ‘one nickel’ of the money you pocketed during this ‘scam’?; have you fired a single Senior Executive as a result of these findings? Stumpf at first attempts to hide behind ‘the board’, but Warren slaps that protection away. He is left exposed, stunned, and speechless. No. He has done none of these things.

The kill comes quickly. The flummoxed CEO stares blankly as Warren declares ‘It’s gutless leadership’, 2 minutes and 18 seconds into her assault. And, following an eight-minute, meticulous deconstruction of the inner workings of the scam he led, she again deploys the rhetorical ‘rule of three’ (as taught by communication expert Mark Jeffries): “You should resign”, she says. “You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and exchange commission”.

We chose this as our Speak of the Week because Warren’s performance is a masterclass in rhetorical dominance. Stumpf cannot hide from her words, and she exposes in miniature everything that has plagued the capitalist system since Reagan’s deregulation of Wall Street in the 1980’s, and which no politician seemingly has had the fortitude to rectify since.

We also selected this because of its impact. This audacious performance may just prove to be an inflection point in the relationship between citizens, their government, and a system that has denuded millions of their hard-earned savings, while padding the seemingly infinite coffers of the 1%. It’s an exhilarating and inspiring experience to see Warren speak truth to power on behalf of those who have no voice.