Donald Trump has been assigning his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the weight of the world.
The 36-year-old real estate developer’s only qualifications for public service are being married to first daughter Ivanka Trump and being loyal to the White House’s part-time occupant. But that’s enough to load up his plate with more helpings of hurt than an overcooked Thanksgiving dinner.
Kushner flew to Iraq to meet with that country’s leaders (and had a weighty discussion, no doubt) to discuss progress there. On top of that, there were supposed to be talks about ways to fight the Islamic State. If that wasn’t impossible enough, his foreign policy “assignments” also direct him to establish peace in the Middle East. Don’t forget his supposed duties also include easing tensions with Mexico, fixing trade with China, and working with Canada, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and an infield player to be named later.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff referred to Kushner as the “super secretary of state.” The Washington Post called him a “shadow diplomat.”
In his spare time, Kushner was also “making the arrangements” for Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Surely the fact that Kushner has business interests with the Chinese is purely coincidental.
“He Went to Jared … for Everything,” was the headline in US News when Kushner’s assignments from Trump started piling up. Kushner’s title is “senior adviser,” but CNN referred to him as the “Secretary of Everything.” Besides his foreign portfolio, here are just some of the items on his domestic to-do list, also shown in the above shot from The Daily Show:
- Running the new Office of American Innovation, described as a “SWAT team of strategic consultants.”
- Reforming the criminal justice system.
- Fighting the opioid epidemic.
- Improving health care for veterans.
- Overhauling the federal bureaucracy.
Color the news media and the American people skeptical about Jared Kushner’s supposed super powers—especially when he takes time out during crucial negotiations about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act to go skiing.
As a snarky story on Huffington Post put it:
So, if you’re keeping track, Jared Kushner, who comes to Washington with no government experience, no policy experience, no diplomatic experience, and business experience limited to his family’s real estate development firm, a brief stint as a newspaper publisher, and briefly bidding to acquire the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be working on trade, Middle East policy in general, an Israel-Palestine peace deal more specifically, reforming the Veterans Administration, and solving the opioid crisis.
Oh wait, that’s not all! Apparently, this new office will also be responsible for “modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing “transformative projects” under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband internet service to every American.”
We have certainly come a long way from “I alone can fix it.”
All of these stories about Kushner’s new role(s) detail the faith and trust Trump has in Kushner and Trump’s seeming inability to go outside his inner circle. Some also claim that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (sometimes called “Javanka” or “Jarvanka” in media speak) are “moderating” influences on Trump, keeping him from his worst impulses. They’re really more “window dressing,” as one column in The New York Daily News put it. “In helping Trump enact his agenda, Jared and Ivanka aren’t moderating influences—they are chief enablers,” said the column by Democratic strategist Peter Kauffman.
But what you never read about in these stories are any results. Because there aren’t any, and there likely never will be.
Of course it’s laughable that Kushner keeps getting more and more “assignments,” but no one—not Trump, not White House staff, not anyone in Congress, and certainly not the news media—expects Kushner to really tackle these problems or to accomplish any—or perhaps only a few—of these feats. This is just the latest in the Donald Trump smokescreen to make it look like he’s actually engaged in the presidency instead of profits. It also serves as yet another distraction from the growing problem of the Russia ties in Trumpland and his failure to get significant legislation passed.
By outsourcing nearly all of his duties to his son-in-law, Trump can pretend that he’s working on the country’s issues while he heads to the links. Trump can keep claiming that “he inherited a mess” but “we’re going to fix it” with supposed systems set up to solve these problems, even thought very little actually is getting done.
A story in The Atlantic described the problems with Trump’s approach to foreign policy: He doesn’t have one.
Sooner or later, someone needs to explain what Trump’s foreign policy is beyond the macho swagger expressed by [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney, whose hard-power experience has consisted chiefly of earning the enmity of John McCain for trying to slash military budgets as a congressman. At the moment there is no Trump foreign policy doctrine, no coherent explanation of the world as seen by the Trump team, and the broad outlines of their policy for dealing with it. There are threats leveled at North Korea, which will either have to be backed up by force or retreated from in humiliation. There is a far warmer reception for an Egyptian dictator than for a fairly elected German chancellor. There is foreign policy conducted as though the United States government were a Middle Eastern court, where the ruler’s family counts for more than the sovereign’s foreign minister. And there is the invocation of America First, a slogan with a rancid history, as the president knows very well.
Team Trump is refusing to fill key government positions that would actually make government work. Many of the senior diplomats at the State Department were fired, and half of the top jobs remain unfilled. The senior diplomatic staff who are there hold acting rather than permanent positions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been underwhelming in his efforts and his interest. When North Korea launched a missile, Tillerson’s terse comment was only: “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
Tillerson planned to skip a NATO foreign ministers meeting and only agreed to attend after pressure from foreign diplomats and members of Congress; as it is, the meeting had to be rescheduled to accommodate Tillerson’s other travel plans. Don’t forget that Tillerson never really wanted the job and only took it when his wife convinced him to take the post because “God’s not through with you yet.” So if Tillerson cancels meetings because of “fatigue” (which he denied) and spends hours alone in his office, it’s not because the 65-year-old needs a nap. No doubt it’s all part of God’s plan.
When confronted with actual world upheavals, Trump descends into a word salad. As a Huffington Post story described his news conference:
Forced to confront several global crises, Trump instead blamed others for the world’s problems and assured his audience only that he had secret plans. His responses varied between campaign boilerplate and train-of-thought ruminations. And it all suggested that this president still has little understanding of the most consequential part of his new job. …
Perhaps Trump does believe in strategic vagueness; in keeping allies and foes alike guessing at what U.S. policy will be. But the more likely explanation is that he is hiding the absence of a plan. And that may be because Trump’s foreign policy, much like that Wednesday press availability, is hopelessly conflicted and disjointed. Under his world vision, America must be strong but not engaged, firm but not predictable, a force for stability but not propping up alliances, compassionate but with less concern for civilian casualties and the money spent on humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, U.S. influence in the world is taking a nosedive, and everyone on Team Trump seems fine with that, as long as they can pretend that they’re making progress. A multi-author piece in Foreign Policy described the approach as “The Swiss Cheese Presidency.” Wrote Jon Finer, who served as chief of staff and director of policy planning for former Secretary of State John Kerry:
“Acting” replacements can hold down the fort for a while. But other countries pay attention to things like whether you’ve been selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Over time, vacancies will weaken U.S. diplomacy and force more and more business onto the desk of either the secretary or the White House. One wonders if that may be the point.
Business leaders and some foreign officials describe Jared Kushner as approachable, and Kushner’s business contacts have blossomed into some relationships, such as the one he supposedly has with Mexican diplomat Luis Videgaray. Kushner surely feels important when he talks to world leaders and meets with the movers and shakers of the business community. Besides, all of that effort could mean big future profits for Kushner Companies.
But foreign affairs crises don’t get solved with inexperience and inattention. Take the multitude of problems in the Middle East and the supposed plans of the person Frank Bruni of The New York Times disdainfully referred to as “SuperJared.” Here’s how Bruni put it:
The precise strategy is under wraps. As Henry Kissinger, an informal adviser to Kushner and others in the Trump administration, told Annie Karni of Politico in mid-February: “It’s not clear to me in what way he’s in charge of it, whether he’s in charge of it with supervision from the White House, or whether he’s supposed to be the actual negotiator. Nor has it been defined what they’re negotiating about.” …
“There’s no deputy secretary of state,” [a former Bush administration official who has had extensive dealings with Kushner] told me. “There’s no deputy secretary of defense.” He ticked off an array of other unfilled positions, insisted that these gaps can’t all be chalked up to some noble desire to shrink government and said that they pretty much prevent any meaningful follow-through on whatever bold ideas Kushner might hatch. “Trump just thinks, ‘Oh, yeah, Jared’s in charge of that.’ In charge of what? What’s he running? You need a bureaucratic infrastructure.”
And what is Jared Kushner going to do about his own Russian connections?
Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner wrote about Kushner’s growing list of duties, with the reminder that Kushner also has a Russia problem. Kushner has met with Russian officials, including Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and Russian bank chairman Sergey Gorkov, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and whose state-run bank has been under U.S. sanctions for nearly three years. And what about the dozens of meetings Kushner had with Russian officials that he “forgot” to report when applying for top-secret security clearance?
Pish-posh. What do you care when your name is in the news, friendly media run smiling photos of you and your dimples, and you and your wife get to fly around the world and keep making money? Imagine what that will do for your brand in the long run.
So never mind the fact that Jared Kushner has never faced a Senate confirmation hearing. He’s going to be facing a different kind of Senate scrutiny soon, when he has to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And if it gets bad, Trump can always launch another distraction, complete with tweets about another imaginary Obama scandal.