When Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made a surprise trip to Iraq earlier this week, the ensuing freak-out was all premised on one glaring rhetorical question: Is the Trump White House being run like a family business?
Less asked, though no less important, is a follow-up: Would that be a bad thing?
I do not know Kushner, and have met Ivanka Trump only twice in passing, years ago while in Trump Tower visiting her father. But I’ve known Donald Trump since 2004, when he called me on the phone after seeing my criticisms of The Apprentice’s depictions of corporate leadership. In the years since, we’ve remained in touch.
In late December, when I talked with then-President-elect Trump, he reflected great pride in the loyalty of his presidential transition team. I, perhaps unwisely, was the skunk at the lawn party, breaking his cheerful spirit and cautioning him that as they migrated into the White House, some of the members of his team were importing mixed motives which were not always in alignment with his priorities. Some of these people were opportunists driven largely by their own agendas and cozied up to him in sycophantic ways. I suggested something he surely already knew: The people on his team he could most trust were his family members.
Sure, family businesses have role conflicts, succession struggles, and sibling rivalries—and the world’s most admired democracy and economy is hardly a mom-and-pop operation. At the same time, we’ve welcomed multiple Bushes, Roosevelts, and Adamses in the White House without acting out the pathologies of All in the Family.
Yet there is skepticism. According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult survey, only 40 percent of Americans approve of Ivanka Trump working as a special assistant to the president. Though the announcement that she’ll occupy an official federal employee role was met with some outrage, it pales in comparison to the scorn that has been lobbed over the kaleidoscope of vital responsibilities forked over to her husband, adviser Jared Kushner.
Without doubt, Kushner is the busiest person in Washington. His daunting portfolio includes huge chunks of both foreign policy and domestic policy: diplomatic relations with Mexico and Canada, strife in the Middle East, key trade deals, government efficiency, overhauling the Veterans Administration, combating opioid abuse, and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, among other formidable responsibilities.
It’s an astoundingly wide assortment—one that has, accordingly, been met with derision by comedians, pundits and journalists alike. It’s been a busy time for President Trump, late-night comedian Stephen Colbert recently quipped: “Every day, he gets to work, rolls up his sleeves, and gives a new job to Jared Kushner.” “Dennis Rodman has more foreign policy experience than Jared Kushner,” snarked Jimmy Kimmel.
The family affair in the Trump White House is mocked by political pundits and comedians who complain that it’s a sharp departure from the U.S. system and American values. But it’s a more familiar model than is appreciated—and one with some promising elements.
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