The government of the United States is the most complex and diversified administrative organization in the world, with responsibility for a vast array of tasks, from disaster relief and tax collection to managing the world’s biggest economy and protecting the country from unstable regimes with nuclear missiles. President Trump, though, is trying to run it like a simple family business. And there is a clear favorite in this family operation: Jared Kushner, Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law, daughter Ivanka’s husband.
Kushner has been given a portfolio that would normally be shared by a full team of seasoned diplomats and economic experts. His duties include overseeing relations with Mexico, Canada and China; finding a solution to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; and running the White House Office of American Innovation, which is tasked with reinventing the entire federal government. When he is not saving the world and fixing the bureaucracy, Kushner is also expected to massage the internal politics of the White House and enforce staff changes.
A lot of people think it is crazy to ask any one human being to oversee such a daunting array of projects, especially when that person has no experience whatsoever in foreign policy or domestic economics. Kushner’s primary professional experience has been in running his family’s New York City-based real estate development company, although, at the age of 25, he dipped into the journalism world when he spent $10 million to buy the New York Observer and make himself publisher. He and the publication’s veteran editor, Peter Kaplan, did not get along. Kaplan is quoted as telling a colleague that Kushner “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”
It is almost certain that, in his multiple new roles, Kushner truly does not know many things, but his advocates say he is willing to admit as much. If so, then he is way ahead of his father-in-law who thinks he knows everything and repeatedly proves he is ignorant of anything that cannot be explained in a tweet. Essentially, the president has made Kushner deputy president. Trump seems to want the young man to do all his homework for him while he does the stuff he really likes to do — giving campaign-style speeches, watching cable news and playing golf.
This may be a ridiculous way to run a government, but it could be worse. Trump could have appointed his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., as junior commander in chief. If that had happened, we would now have two Twitter-obsessed Trumps sending out silly messages inspired by kooky misinformation dredged up from the depths of the right-wing blogosphere.
Kushner is a much calmer, more circumspect guy. A lifelong Democrat until he signed on to run the social media effort for the Trump presidential campaign, Kushner leans toward moderation. Americans should probably be grateful he has an office in the West Wing because he not only has a chance to temper the president’s wilder impulses, he may offset the malign machinations of Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s ultra-nationalist, government-loathing senior advisor.
Kushner is said to be no fan of ideologues and zealots. According to a report in Politico, conservatives are very upset about Kushner’s pragmatic influence and jealous of his unshakeable position as the president’s right-hand man.
Trump has joked to his daughter that he has stolen her husband. Maybe that is why she has been given a White House office — to see her spouse once in a while. Reportedly, Kushner is often the last person Trump sees at night (First Lady Melania seldom sleeps at the White House) and is always with him on weekend jaunts to Florida.
Even though he already has more duties than anyone in the Trump administration, this week Kushner added a trip to Iraq to his itinerary. It seems like way too much. On the other hand, producing peace in the Middle East may be simple compared with Kushner’s most daunting challenge: keeping his father-in-law from doing something truly nutty and dangerous.
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