Terry H. Schwadron
March 1, 2018
Jared Kushner, of course, is an equal-opportunity target for criticism from all sides, so, a decision to downgrade his status this week prompted few tears.
Ever since he emerged as a major campaign adviser as well as White House senior influencer with no obvious credentials other than inheriting family millions and marrying Ivanka Trump, Jared has widely been seen by conservatives, middle-roaders and liberals as much more of a problem than a solution. Not only is he kind of goofy and not nice personality with a squeaky high voice, but he has brazenly treated himself as a stand-in for the president himself.
For hardened conservatives, Jared and Ivanka’s attempts to promote themselves as a moderating force on a careering Papa Trump aimed only as disruption was an unnecessary obstacle to their goals. To middle-roaders, Jared simply lacked depth, understanding or experience of any note, and thus seemed more an embarrassment than anything else. To the left, Jared has epitomized narrow-think, personality-driven Trumpism that ignores fact-finding for sloganeering. Indeed, to the left, Jared’s downfall and downgrade is an odd cause for celebration, as least for the loyal forces of I-told-you-so.
For his part, Trump gave Jared — and Ivanka — some wide policy acres to roam, and asserting that Kushner, for example, could solve the China puzzle or come up with a Middle East proposal acceptable to all is about as effective as asking me to do so. That Trump has been blind to ethics problems and deaf to policy criticism and senseless about the chaos that Jared’s presence has caused within White House ranks is now just par for the course.
The news this week that Jared has been stripped by Chief of Staff John F. Kelley Jr. of his top secret security credentials over continuing and lingering questions of complications from his international business networking and from his failure to successfully handle his FBI-required reviews was an anti-climax.
Without the top security clearance, it is now practically impossible to see how Jared can handle a role as international ambassador-at-large for his father-in-law. Indeed, reports were already circulating by the end of demotion day that various international representatives think that they were hoodwinking, influencing or otherwise using Jared as a pathway to Trump himself.
Writ large, that is exactly why the security clearance issue has taken on significance. Jared, Ivanka and reportedly dozens of others in the White House have been operating on temporary security credentials. In Jared’s case, the intrigue of his foreign contacts was said to leave him open to potential blackmail for information or policy. That, of course, is why we have such an FBI review.
It seems a fair question to ask whether Ivanka too should lose her credential and her wandering portfolio. Of course, Ivanka now is trying to dictate what questions are appropriate for her either as White House aide or First Daughter.
And, by the way, none of this has anything to do with whether the questions being churned up by the Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III investigation of all-things-Russia will end up touching Kushner. Among other things, Jared has been said to be part of the dismissal of former FBI director James B. Comey Jr. to stop the Russia investigation. Nor is it related, really, to the constant dust-ups Kushner had with former chief adviser Stephen K. Bannon.
To me, this is a situation that has been clear from afar during the entire first year of Trump as president — and it has little to do with left-right politics, fair trade issues, or Middle East peace. Rather, it is a manifestation of Trump’s own experience running a relatively small family business, however financially successfully, as a kingdom with a single, autocratic leader who brooks no questions about who’s in charge.
That single fact about this president — his experience as head of The Trump Organization — is a funhouse mirror for this style of leadership. The president looks in the mirror as sees the fairest in the land, the hero character who always wins the day — and the girl — just by snapping his imperial fingers. Thus, in translation, it makes perfect sense for this president to surround himself by loyalty rather than competence, by family rather than experienced governors and administrators, by those who offer dissenting note only in the most private and obsequious manner.
How else did anyone think the Jared-Ivanka appointments would work out?
This week, for example, saw not only the flowering of the Jared question, but the idea that Trump would appoint his own personal pilot to head the FAA, an organizationally dumbfounding move. It’s a direct follow on naming a reality star to a White House jobs as protocol job (which did not work out) or naming a long-time associate of his family who had organized golf tournaments on the president’s courses and planned his son Eric’s wedding, to oversee billions of federal dollars as the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s New York and New Jersey office.
Even in naming his cabinet of billionaire regulation-haters, Trump managed to praise most as business-savvy men.
Let’s agree here — this is bad management, a key part of the job that Trump has asked to have for us. He’s supposed to run the government; that we put a value on competence and experience was not supposed to be a major issue.
And yet, it is, along with disdain for ethical behavior, for respect for all Americans, for a healthy insult-free debate on the issues, and for leadership that is credible across the country and the world. Running the country as a small, successful, family business is simply wrong — and it is nuts towards achieving the goals that he thinks are important, to say nothing of the goals that I think matter.
So, Jared has gotten a slap. He could stay in his reduced role, but continuing as a Trump whisperer. He could go home and get back to unregulated businesses. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy.
My questions, instead, concern the president’s ability to manage whatever is before him. If Trump wanted Jared to stay, why didn’t he brave the criticism and simply override the security process? If he doesn’t want Jared to stay, why is he still there? If he wants a well-functioning White House, why doesn’t he allow the mostly loyal chief of staff run the daily business? And if we can’t expect Trump to figure out what to do with his daughter and son-in-law, why would we trust him to decide issues of state or deal with lunatic madmen with nuclear weapons?
It does make you wonder.