Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

The Son-in-Law Also Rises*

Of the myriad of cretinous, contradictory, incomprehensible and downright prevaricating things #45 has said in his rather brief political career, there has been, believe it or not, one stellar statement of ultimate clarity and truth: the time he told Fox News' Chris Wallace "I want to be unpredictable." With these five words, #45 came about as close as he ever has - and perhaps ever shall - to defining a coherent, all-purpose "Trump Doctrine" - as equally applicable to the realm of foreign policy, health care, "America-First" populism versus globalism or Wall Street versus Main Street and a whole host of conspiracy theories. By now, a clear majority of the populace are fairly well inured to all the shucking and jiving #45 has done on issues ranging fromNATO, military involvement in Syria and China-as-malevolent-currency-manipulator to standing up against the myrmidons Wall Street and, of course, "draining the swamp." And this does not even begin to speak about all those things he was going to accomplish on "Day One," let alone his first 100 days in office.  We're getting ever so close to 100 days and here's a list of all #45's legislative accomplishments . . .

                Kushner & Bannon

                Kushner & Bannon

If the Obama highway could be likened to a well-paved, well-plotted interstate, "Route 45" is a pot-holed turnpike filled with stupefying detours and GPS-defying U-turns.  Nowhere is all this unpredictability on greater display than in the internecine warfare going on between #45's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon. Not so very long ago, Steve Bannon was a first-among-equals with a seat on the National Security Council.  As recently as February 2nd of this year, Time Magazine ran an article asking Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?  Now, #45 claims - with a straight face - that he did not even know his erstwhile political guru naming him campaign chief executive in the summer of 2016. It would seem that Mr. Bannon and his alt-right, Breitbart-fueled populist politics are on a downward spiral, while the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner's stock is on the rise. (Hence this week's tongue-in-cheek title The Son-in-Law Also Rises*.) Many argue that a Bannon inspired #45 would never have fired 59 missiles at that Syrian airbase, dropped a "Mother of All Bombs" on the lunar-like terrain of mountainous Afghanistan or suddenly stopped referring to the Chinese as pernicious currency manipulators.  But a Kushner inspired POTUS likely would . . . and did.

If this is true - that #45's son-in-law's stock is on the ascent -  it likely means that the battle for #45's ear is more cause for - than symptom of - all the unpredictability, flip-flops, u-turns and otherwise inexplicable changes currently going onbefore our eyes. This in-house war raises an-all critical question badly in need of an even more all-critical answer.  To wit: is this to be an alt-right administration whose policies, practices and world-view are shaped by the forces of Bannon, Breitbart, Fox News and right-wing radio, or is it to be a family business shaped largely by the president's 36-year old son-in-law whose portfolio now requires a portmanteau? Will the next four years be as revolutionary and "finger-in-the-eye-of-politics-as-usual" as anyone has ever experienced, or will it increasingly become just another standard Republican administration - sometimes maddeningly conservative and others middle-of-the-road?  And most importantly, regardless of whomsoever the POTUS is listening to, will he ever stop campaigning and get around to governing?

Eerily, Jared Kushner - whose personal and family proclivities have always tended Democrat - has, if possible, even less political knowledge or experience than his father-in-law. The one thing he does have going for him - in addition to being, like his father-in-law, a multi-centimillionaire  real estate tycoon and having no previous governmental experience - is that he's married to #45's daughter Ivanka.  And yet, despite his glaring lack of credentials, today is his father-in-law's senior advisor, heads the president's newly created Office of American Innovationand travels the world as a sort of personal emissary/ambassador without portfolio.  

#45 is by no means the first POTUS to appoint family members to a positions of responsibility; presidential nepotism has been around since this country's earliest days.  As far back as 1798, President John Adams named his son, John Quincy Adams, minister (Ambassador) to Prussia. Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, was also his son-in-law, married to Wilson's youngest daughter, Eleanor.  John F. Kennedy famously named his brother. Robert Frances, Attorney General and his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, head of the newly-created Peace Corps.  The difference with these - and many other such appointments - is that both the presidents in question and the family members granted positions - were possessed of both political and governmental experience.  The same cannot be said for either our current president or his son-in-law.

The fact that Jared Kushner's sole qualification for being at the epicenter of the #45's administration is being the president's son-in-law is actually a plus in some parts of the world.  In many Muslim countries, being a close relation to the leader is really all that counts.  Remember, Islam is a religion whose most important fault line rests with the ancient argument over what the single-most important qualification for succeeding the prophet Muhammad would be. Either:

  • Being a close relative of the prophet - this is basis for Shiite Islam, or
  • Being a close follower of the prophet's customs and practices - this is what the vast majority (Sunni) of Muslims believe to this very day.

Precisely how much influence Jared Kushner can and will exercise over his father-in-law is anyone's guess.  Precisely what advise he will offer - and whether it will have any recognizable coherence - is as yet unknown.  The one thing which is clear is this: that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue needs someone (or indeed, a group of "someones") who can hold him in check, keep his fingers from Tweeting, and teach him the difference between bluster and reality. 

85 days down, 1,375 days to go.

(* The expression The Son-in-Law Also Rises is, alas, not my creation.  It goes back to 1930, when Hollywood wunderkind David O. Selznick married Irene Meyer, the daughter of MGM mogul Louis B. Meyer.  Upon announcing the pending nuptials, one Hollywood wag (Dorothy Parker?) famously quipped "Ah, the son-in-law also rises!"  Jared Kushner should study the life of Selznick, who would go on to produce such classics as David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and most famously, Gone With the Wind. Jared Kushner might learn what Selznick certainly did while working for his father-in-law:  alpha males don't cede their power - even to other alpha males.  Sons-in-law can rise . . . but they can also sink.)

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone