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Jared Kushner: Il Consigliere

January 26, 2017

jared-kushner

In TrumpWorld, everything is personal.  And the most important things are in the family.

Take the meteoric rise of Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, who Trump has named as Senior White House Advisor despite the appointment’s questionable legality because of anti-nepotism rules.  [On January 20, just as Trump was taking office, the Justice Department announced that the appointment was legit. Apparently, none of those annoying laws apply to Donald Trump, and besides nobody wants to piss off the new boss.]

Kushner had become an increasingly prominent and powerful member of the Trump team during the campaign and seems to have been “in the room” for almost every important meeting since the election. Clearly, Trump trusts him to handle…um, situations and seems to listen to his advice on hiring and firing. And they both seem to share a taste for revenge eaten cold.

His relationship with Trump looks increasingly like consigliere Tom Hagen’s with Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Or maybe Michael Corleone’s.  Or a mash-up of both.

Despite his key role in the new administration, there is remarkably little information about Kushner’s personal political views.  His wealthy family (more about that below) has contributed generously to Democratic candidates (including the Clintons and former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey–the one who resigned in 2004 after being outed as gay following an affair with an Israeli “security advisor”).  But the Kushners’ largess seems to have been much more about seeking influence and favors than about political ideology or conviction.  As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Kushner’s backstory is fascinating enough to merit its own miniseries.  For a much fuller (and well-sourced) account, it’s definitely worth checking out these profiles that ran in New York Magazine in 2009 and in January of this year.  Here’s a very brief synopsis:

Jared Kushner was born in 1981 to a wealthy orthodox Jewish New Jersey family. His father, Charles, made a huge fortune in real estate, often in partnership with his brother and in-laws. Jared was the fair-haired eldest son–extremely intelligent, self-disciplined,  and mature beyond his years.  To insure his son’s admission to Harvard, Charles made large donations to the university and also to NYU, where Jared later earned JD and MBA degrees, though it seems that someone of Jared’s talent and accomplishments hardly needed to have the skids greased.

The pivotal event in his young life was his father Charles’s arrest in 2004 and subsequent conviction for 18 felonies including tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and witness tampering, for which he served two years in prison.  This occurred in the midst of (and was partly precipitated by) a bitter, sordid, and very public family battle between Charles and his brother and brother-in-law, which reportedly involved Charles setting the latter up in a motel tryst with a prostitute for the purpose of blackmail.  The prosecution was led by none other than Chris Christie, who was then attorney general of New Jersey with higher political ambitions.

By all accounts, this was devastating to Jared, who was only 24 at the time, but he idolized his father and stood by him, believing the conviction was a mistake and politically motivated. It was also a blow to his social standing in New York, but he still had ambition, lots of money, and connections in the real estate world.

He used some of that money to buy the New York Observer, at the time a somewhat tweedy and gossipy tabloid with both a political and literary bent and perhaps best known for publishing the Candace Bushnell columns that became the basis for Sex and the City. But it was widely read and discussed among certain sectors of New York’s elite, and it gave Kushner a different kind of social status at a time when he needed it.

He also made bold bids in real estate, most notably the 2007 purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue for a reported $1.8 billion–then the most expensive real estate purchase in US history. His nascent real estate empire was imperiled by the crash the following year, but Kushner managed to survive the crisis and emerge with his fortune intact and a growing reputation as a young lion on the rise.  It’s easy to see why he would catch Donald Trump’s approving attention.

About the same time that he made his big splash in New York real estate, Kushner began dating Ivanka Trump.  According to various reports, his orthodox family initially opposed the match on religious grounds.  But those objections were overcome when Ivanka agreed to convert. (Perhaps further evidence that Trump family religious convictions might be somewhat situational and fluid.) The couple married in 2009.

Theoretically, religion isn’t supposed to matter in American politics. But of course it does tremendously, and Kushner’s strong orthodox Jewish credentials have been helpful to Trump in defending against charges of antisemitism among some of his alt-right fans.  According to the New York Times, “when the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, wanted to communicate with Donald J. Trump, he ended up on two occasions in the Manhattan office of…Jared Kushner.”  It is unclear if Kushner had any influence in picking Trump’s nominee for US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is aligned with the Israeli far right.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see Kushner as a more soft-spoken, less flamboyant, younger version of his father-in-law, i.e., someone who was born to wealth; used his connections, chutzpah, and vast ambitions to build success in business; is not fundamentally ideological; and sees politics as the ultimate way of accruing status, wealth, and respect.  Both seem to have something to prove to those who have disrespected them.

After all, Jared Kushner now has the ear of the President of the United States, and Chris Christie’s political career sleeps with the fishes.

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