Politics

What Jared Kushner's New Job Is Inspiring Scary Comparisons

Defined as "the practice among those with power of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs," nepotism has plagued the Trump administration since early stories that President Donald Trump's children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka would receive security clearance and high-profile White House jobs.

Indeed, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka, was soon sworn in as a senior advisor to the president and given a wide-ranging portfolio encompassing foreign policy, despite having no experience in international relations.

Most recently, Kushner was named to lead a new "White House Office of American Innovation," to make the government run more "like a great American company," as Kushner put it. The Washington Post deemed Kushner's office as "a SWAT team of strategic consultants" to be "staffed by former business executives and [...] designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington."

Kushner was quickly lambasted on social media over his lack of qualifications, and in particular a quote he gave to the Post, where he declared "Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

But what's more worrisome for authoritarianism experts is that this kind of nepotism is common in non-democratic regimes, but rare in democracies. "The former rely on a small, loyal slice of the population to stay in power while the latter rely on popular legitimacy," Sheri Berman, associate professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University, told ATTN:.

Tom Pepinsky, associate professor of government at Cornell University, echoed this to ATTN:, saying, "Nepotism is common in authoritarian and democratic regimes alike, but President Trump's willingness to involve his children and his son-in-law in influential positions is a striking development in American politics."

While the Trump regime isn't authoritarian in the traditional sense, "what seems unusual is not just the extent of the family and friends appointed to positions of power, but the lack of any semblance of preparedness or experience of them for the positions they now hold," Berman said.

There have been a slew of Trump associates elevated to lead departments they had no background in. But the appointment that seems to have rankled experts the most is Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate executive who appears to have gained Trump's trust solely by being married to his daughter.

"For an analog to someone like Jared Kushner being placed in charge of an effort to overhaul government, we must look beyond the United States," Cornell's Pepinsky said. "As I have argued elsewhere, using the case of Indonesia under President Suharto, family members can shield presidents from the understanding the negative consequences of their policies. Their position in politics also undermines trust in government. Who believes that someone like Jared Kushner has no personal interest ​in the policies he promotes?"

Pepinsky goes to the extreme of what nepotism can do to a country by citing Suharto, a brutal strongman who ruled Indonesia for 30 years, and who worked closely with his family to loot as much as $35 billion.

Likewise, such nepotism is common in dictatorships where sons are routinely groomed for power. Sheri Berman cites the dynasty of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein's vicious sons, and the disastrous rule of Syrian dictator Haffez Al-Assad's son Bashar as the worst examples. Nepotism also runs deep in Central Asian former Soviet republics, as well as many African dictatorships.

The United States has had nepotism in the White House as well, including John F. Kennedy's appointment of his brother Robert as attorney general, often cited as the root of current anti-nepotism laws. But even in these cases, Pepinski said, "presidents have been very careful to avoid any perception of impropriety or conflict of interest."

"Allegations of nepotism will continue to hound President Trump so long as he places his family members in positions of authority," Pepinksi said. "Such practices could irrevocably harm the federal government's ability to carry out the tasks that fall under its constitutional authority."