The complete list of issues President Trump has entrusted to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, includes all the most intractable problems facing America today, except how to fold fitted sheets (which, who knows, maybe that’s next week). His duties include:
1. Streamlining government
2. Repairing relationships with the Muslim community
3. Addressing the opioid epidemic
4. Overseeing the Chinese state visit
5. Securing peace between Palestine and Israel
The list is abbreviated because Kushner’s portfolio seems to grow by the day. On Sunday night, the White House confirmed — in a risky breach of protocol — that Kushner was on his way to Iraq to meet with the joint chiefs of staff. On the plus side: It’s the closest any Trump will get to serving in the military, so maybe we should be grateful. On the other hand: What in the actual fuck?
Kushner’s portfolio itself is laughably overstuffed, the kind of is-this-real-life punch line that “President Donald Trump” used to be. You can’t read it out loud with stopping to palm yourself in the face. Do you know anyone in a two-career family with three kids who has time for date night, let alone peace in the Middle East?
Sure, the president putting his financially exposed, culturally sheltered son-in-law in charge of creating policies he stands to benefit from goes against all kinds of conflict-of-interest statutes. But a list of responsibilities this long, taken seriously, also goes against the laws of physics.
Which is why I wonder if maybe the answer to the mystery of Kushner’s unearned expertise is that the White House doesn’t actually take these things seriously. The commentariat sees Trump’s delegation of these complex and consuming tasks as a sign of his trust and respect for Kushner, as well as proof of just how few people Trump trusts, period. Maybe both of those things are true! But you have to ask why it is that Trump trusts so few people — in government especially — and, maybe more importantly, what makes Kushner special in his eyes.
There’s probably a DSM entry to be written about Trump’s trust issues, but you don’t need to put him on the couch to find an easy explanation for this particular slice of paranoia. Trump has suspicion, even contempt, for those in government: Even after having joined it, he seethes at perceived incompetence and malice.
If there’s any one lesson to be drawn from the failure of the American Health Care Act, it’s that Trump's pathological incuriousness about how government actually works allows him to dismiss all political failures as personal ones, the fault of insufficiently savvy beta cucks making “bad deals.”
Marrying Ivanka, on the other hand? He reads that intensely personal milestone as a résumé builder, a sign of greatness, talent, and, I suspect, the sort of “good genes” Trump is constantly bragging about himself. Combine Trump’s overvaluing of the skill it took to woo Ivanka with his undervaluing of how difficult policy can be and you get Jared Kushner, unelected copresident and unvetted Secretary of Watching the World Burn.
If anything, Trump’s weirdly sentimental estimation of Kushner’s abilities is easier to understand than Kushner’s nonchalant acceptance of his ludicrously grave assignment sheet. In many of the tentatively hopeful profiles of Kushner, associates praise him for “knowing what he doesn’t know.”
I don’t get that impression.
The most generous interpretation of Kushner taking on all these duties — that is, one that doesn’t assume craven self-dealing — has to include craven self-regard, an ego inflated far beyond what his years and experience would justify.
Others have extensively catalogued the scant basis for considering Kushner either a Silicon Valley–style innovator or a real-estate savant. I will select two salient lowlights. He bought a $2,500 Mac computer, and then used it to run Windows (just the guy you'd want to figure out government inefficiencies!). In 2007, he engineered the purchase of (and then mortgaged the shit out of) the most expensive building in Manhattan — just before the market crashed. Now the Kushner family is stuck at the end of the interest-only payment period and the building's revenue covers just over half of its debt obligations. They have ambitious plans to sink another $4.2 billion of other people's money into it. This money-shuffling and shifting of responsibility — and lack of foresight — is exactly the kind of thinking you'd want put into solving an addiction epidemic, sure.
He doesn’t just make bad investments, he makes glaringly stupid ones. But, insulated by family wealth and connections, he’s never had to suffer the consequences ... and Trump has seen fit to allow that pattern to continue into the White House.
After all, the reason we giggle nervously at Kushner’s full platter of disasters is that the stakes in each arena are really fucking high. Miscalculations in any one of the policy areas could lead to horrible financial consequences at best, deaths at worst — but Trump doesn’t judge success and failure by the same quantitative reality as the rest of us. When assessing Kushner’s progress, he won’t look at a balance sheet, he’ll look at the bloodline. Whether Kushner elegantly handles the opioid crisis, or the Middle East conflicts, or Chinese diplomacy, he’ll still be the father of Trump’s grandchildren — the same prestigious position that got him the job in the first place. He’s too related to fail.