Bad Things Are Normal: Jared Kushner

Tsar Alexander III and his family. His son, Nicholas, would go on to attempt to solve Imperial Russia’s most intractable problems, and position the nation to meet future challenges and opportunities.

Everyone surely knows who Jared Kushner is. Of the seven Trump children and spouses, Kushner is second (distant second) only to his wife in success outside of Donald Trump senior’s real estate company/reality distortion field. He is now the director of White House Office of American Innovation, in addition to his position as Senior Advisor to the President. According to Politico, his portfolio includes “…negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, helping oversee relations with Canada, China and Mexico and, as of this week, reinventing the federal government…”

The focus of the Politico article is the “… resentment among his colleagues, who question whether Kushner is capable of following through on his various commitments.”. Without taking the side of any particular faction or person in the Hobbesian state that is the Trump administration, I would have to judge the resentment understandable, and the skepticism regarding Kushner’s chances of success reasonable.

When I read this article, which is an account of the palace intrigue surrounding Kushner’s growing influence, I thought “how irritating it was to read another piece ‘normalizing’ the dysfunction and nepotism of the Trump administration”. My second thought was that no-one can normalize this situation, because it is one of the most normal things you can imagine. Nepotism is normal. Unskilled, untested, and mediocre people vaulting to positions of vast authority and responsibility based on their connections and ability to bullshit is normal. The assumption that wealthy people are innately competent is most certainly normal, especially in the United States. There’s no need to argue whether or not this is normal. What’s more important is whether this is good or bad.

It’s bad. It’s very bad. That someone like Kushner is going to manage these projects successfully and simultaneously or come close to achieving any of these goals is absurd on its face.

The idea that Kushner will be “negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal” is ridiculous. This is something that is clearly very, very hard to do. This task should fall to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Does Kushner’s authority supersede that of the State Department’s? The same question could be asked about Kushner “helping” oversee relations with Canada, China and Mexico. If representatives of any of these countries make arrangements or agreements with the State Department and Kushner or his representatives, which ones takes precedence? Is the Department of State coordinating with Kushner, or with people he oversees in the White House? I don’t know the answers to these questions. Perhaps there is some protocol or procedure in place, but it had better be really good, because even simple diplomacy can get very complicated, very fast, with two people in charge of working the same territory.

Reinventing the federal government sounds like a monumental task. This is how Trump describes it:

This office will bring together the best ideas from government, the private sector and other thought leaders to ensure that America is ready to solve tomorrow’s most intractable problems, and is positioned to meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities…The office will focus on implementing policies and scaling proven private-sector models to spur job creation and innovation.

This is gobbledygook. I can’t stress that enough. It is sheer, utter, nonsense.

The person who will handle all this is someone who hasn’t truly accomplished anything in his life. It sounds mean, but it’s true. He took over his father’s successful real estate company, and used the wealth he didn’t create to buy a newspaper, The New York Observer, which continues to exist, albeit solely online. These are, essentially, lateral moves. Jared Kushner has never built a successful concern or endeavor from the ground up, nor has he turned around a failing enterprise. He has no experience in government, in diplomacy, and very little in politics. Looking at what he’s done in his ten years out of college, it’s hard to discern a desire or drive to serve in his history. Government is not (should not be) a prize that one secures in order to attain status and prestige. Government work is about service. Regardless of motivation, even a driven, superhuman, autodidact would find the goals he’s supposedly responsible for all but impossible.

It is fairly normal for unqualified people to be handed difficult, important tasks. If you ever worked for a large company, you have seen this. Management creates positions for favored employees, and people with political juice create or acquire titles and job descriptions that are vague and laden with jargon. How will citizens truly know if Kushner has successfully positioned the entire government to meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities? How will we measure the job creation and innovation spurred by implementing policies and scaling proven private-sector models? The answers, respectively, are that you won’t know, and they can’t be measured. That’s the whole point.

One way to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be to find some solution that’s mutually agreeable to the various factions in Palestinian and Israel (quite hard).

Another way to deal with the conflict is to look like you’re trying to do something, but let the status quo play out. Difficult or intractable problems are like catnip for people looking to pad their resumes, because the bar is already low to begin with. People who really tried to solve this problem failed, so if no one’s paying attention, you can plausibly imitate them.

It’s a win-win for both the employee and the organization if the organization doesn’t really care about working the problem. If you can imagine such a thing, business leaders in the private sector will sometimes want to gloss over or ignore difficult, intractable problems, even when they could cause serious long term problems.

In the distinctly possible dsytopian world of a couple of decades from now, Kushner will write unreadable books and rake in speaking fees talking about his great work in finding good ways to do the right things. Unlike anyone since the founding of the republic, he tried to make the government work better. He also tried to fix the whole Israeli-Palestinian kerfuffle, but, you know, it was really hard. It’s not his fault he didn’t succeed.

This type of thing is normal in government and the private sector. What’s less normal in government, in this country, is rank, blatant nepotism. Nepotism, of course, is the default method of political succession throughout history and the world.

Nepotism is also a clearly terrible way to handle assigning pretty much any task. It’s bad that the Trump administration is muddling the lines of responsibility and authority in order to fluff up Jared Kushner’s reputation as a serious statesman. It’s bad that Kushner is essentially being put in a position of authority because a). he wants to be, and b). he is one of the few people that can manage, or reason with, Donald Trump.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner seem to be the most resilient and consistently successful of Trump’s handlers. Ivanka has succeeded, somewhat, on her own terms, and has made more of her advantages as a real estate heiress than any other member of the family. One thing I will give Kushner credit for is that he has managed to stay in Trump’s good graces, succeeding to the point of becoming a trusted advisor. He accomplished this as an in-law, and he beat out Trump’s own sons, who are now knocking around the world, looking busy.

None of this is a good, objective reason to assign Kushner to any important jobs within our government. The Trump Administration has taken tentative steps towards importing the normal, lazy, human tendency to suffer systems of aristocracy into the Executive Branch of the United States of America. Whether it’s “normal”, or not, is not important. It’s bad for governance, bad for citizens, and bad from a practical standpoint. It’s bad in a way that should be obvious.