Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and author of the book, “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Does Jared Kushner know anything relevant to his White House role at all? Have any comprehension of the role of a public servant? See a purpose in his life other than elevating himself into ever-higher echelons of wealth and influence?
If you were going by his remarks in a recent interview with Axios, the answer would have to be no.
Kushner sputtered and spun, looking like a little boy dressed up in his father’s suit, unable to give a definitive or direct answer to nearly every question asked of him. From abortion rights to Israel, Palestinians to the presidential campaign, Kushner served word salad. It was a rare and jarring look inside the mind of a cipher made suddenly and undeservedly powerful. What we saw: A whole lot of nothing.
The urgent takeaway: voters cannot squander the nation’s upcoming opportunity to restore competence, stature and sanity to the White House.
Kushner’s interview would have been comical if this underqualified senior adviser didn’t have the ear of the leader of the free world, and didn’t, absurdly, believe himself the right guy to advise on any number of matters – including taking over the Middle East peace process.
His real qualifications? He married a Trump, and his father-in-law likes him.
Before that, Kushner had achieved little beyond a mediocre academic career, a massive real estate failure via his criminal dad’s company, and the decision to purchase a newspaper – The New York Observer – as a vanity project that he promptly ran into the ground.
This White House is such a pulsating example of unearned privilege (see here, here, here, here and here), that in a nation that prides itself on meritocracy and swears that those who work hard are rewarded, we see that it’s also possible to be a rich dolt and still occupy one of the most powerful positions on earth. (In the case of Kushner’s father-in-law, whose trajectory of failure and mediocrity landed him in the Oval Office, to occupy what may be the most powerful position on earth.)
Just how ignorant, middling and amoral is Kushner? The Axios interview offers some startling clues. Among them is that he manages to spin his utter incompetence as a good thing.
Asked by Axios’ Jonathan Swan to name the thing Trump will be known for in 50 or 100 years, he replied, in part: “What this President did is he represented an outsider who came in, brought in a ton of people who never would’ve been in Washington before who were not ‘qualified’ by conventional standards,” Kushner said, thus absolving himself of his own pretender status. “And he’s brought in a ton of people that have brought great results to this country both economically and from a national security point of view.”
It is true that Trump brought in a great many “outsiders” who were not qualified for their administration jobs by conventional standards (or any standards, really). His cabinet members and other appointments have been often inept, many of them just seriously inexperienced. Even his ambassadors are the least qualified in living memory.
As a result, America’s reputation worldwide has been sullied, we are facing unprecedented attacks on freedom of the press, election interference from a hostile foreign power has gone largely ignored by the administration, and we may be facing a constitutional crisis. Those are not “great results.” They are disastrous to our living democracy.
In the Axios interview, Kushner also defended Trump from accusations of racism, saying, “You can’t not be a racist for 69 years and then run for president and be a racist.” This would be relevant if Trump hadn’t been a racist for 69 years, but in fact he has spent significant time and money over the past several decades pushing his racist views.
Recall, for one consequential example (among many), the Justice Department’s 1973 crackdown on Trump’s real estate organization for screening rental applicants by race (Trump settled the case without admitting wrongdoing). Or Trump’s decision in 1989 to take out a newspaper ad pushing the death penalty after five African American teenagers were accused of rape in Central Park; they were later exonerated, but Trump refused to accept it.
Kushner, of course, knows all about this.
Asked specifically about Trump’s promotion of the birther canard about President Obama, Kushner repeatedly refused to answer – concluding with: “Uh, like I said I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago.”
This was par for the course in the interview. When confronted with inconvenient information – like the fact that Kushner’s friend Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered, the CIA has concluded, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was living in the United States – Kushner similarly hedged. (What is the administration waiting for to hold Mohammed Bin Salman accountable, he was asked? “I believe that there’s a report that they’re working on.”)
He did the same on the question of whether he supports abortion rights: “I’m here to enforce his (Trump’s) positions. His position is the one that as a staffer in the White House will work to push.”)
There’s an ongoing fiction that those around Trump are keeping this rig afloat, and that even if the President is small-minded and spends his days yelling at the television and tweeting, those around him are ably steering the ship.
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The Kushner interview lays bare how false that is. Trump has put sycophants and loyal family members in influential positions over people who actually know what they’re doing. The Trump family are the ones at the wheel.
We can’t lose our ability to be shocked by how low this floor keeps dropping. And the influence of someone who is simultaneously profoundly clueless and ill-equipped for his job, and yet also self-admiring of his “outsider” status, is dangerous. Experience matters. Knowledge matters. Without it, we simply have a government of know-nothings – advising a President desperately in need of better angels whispering in his ear.