One of the most bizarre features of Donald Trump's nearly 100-day-old presidency is the role of his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. They have no real qualifications to advise or carry out the agenda of a U.S. commander-in-chief, and yet Ivanka holds an unpaid position as "assistant to the president," while Kushner may be the most powerful figure in the White House other than Trump himself.
The media's treatment of Ivanka and Kushner has been just as curious. News outlets have long touted the value of their presence in Trump's inner circle. They tell us that Ivanka and Jared are the cool, young, moderate ones who will bring Trump back to the center on "liberal" issues like climate change and women's rights. On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver examined the degree to which this has been true. He did it by asking and answering two key questions.
1. Is Ivanka really the moderating influence people claim?
From an optics standpoint, Ivanka and her father are nothing alike. Trump is brash and unrestrained; Ivanka is calm and composed. Trump is spontaneous and crass; Ivanka is measured and elegant. Trump is orange and bloated; Ivanka is blonde and not bloated. The media has assumed their differences extend to their worldviews, as well, but as Oliver points out, this is nothing more than an assumption.
To showcase this phenomenon of the media favorably filling in the blanks when Ivanka provides vapid answers about how she relates to her father, Oliver turned to Gayle King on CBS This Morning. When King asked Ivanka about how she disagrees with her father and what impact she will have on him, the daughter of the president offered no specfics, noting that "most of the impact I have, over time, most people will not actually know about." Later in the segment, when King was discussing the interview with Charlie Rose, she said she'd "guess" Trump and Ivanka differ on climate change and "certainly" on Planned Parenthood, even though Ivanka said no such thing.
In other words, as Oliver points out, “We may all be thinking Ivanka is doing a lot more than she actually is."
Trump recently signed a bill allowing states to block funding to Planned Parenthood. Where was Ivanka on that one? Any ideas, Gayle King?
After he was elected in 2016, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, a noted climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. If Ivanka cared about climate change and had any influence at all over her father's decisions, how did this happen?
While speaking at the Republican National Convention in July, Ivanka touted the importance of family leave and child care. Oliver referred viewers to a February report from the Tax Policy Center that described Trump's child care plan as offering "very few benefits" to low-income families that need the assistance the most. The study found that "families with incomes between $10,000 and $30,000 would receive average annual benefits of just $10.”
"The only daycare that costs $10 is a padlock," says Oliver.
For some added insight into how Ivanka has cultivated her public perception, Oliver pointed to a passage in her 2009 book The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life.
“Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true. This doesn’t mean you should be duplicitous or deceitful, but don’t go out of your way to correct a false assumption if it plays to your advantage.”
“[Ivanka] has been trained in the art of Trump branding to be as vague and likable as possible, so that everyone can plausibly think that she shares their values, whether or not that’s actually true," Oliver says.
2. What in Jared’s background justifies such a gigantic White House portfolio?
If the future of the country wasn't at stake, Jared Kushner's absurd list of White House tasks would be comical. Trump's confidence in Kushner's ability to bring stability to the Middle East has been widely mocked, but brokering peace is only a sliver of his portfolio.
As Oliver pointed out, he is also the point person in dealings with more than two dozen countries. He's supposed to reform the criminal justice system. He's supposed to run the Office of American Innovation. He's responsible for reforming veteran care. He's even supposed to tackle the opioid epidemic.
“Jared’s portfolio would be unmanageable for the smartest man on Earth," Oliver says. "So, is Jared Kushner the smartest man on Earth?”
The answer, as you may have guessed, is no. Kushner is not even remotely qualified to take on any of these responsibilities, much less all of them. The media loves to point out that he went to Harvard, but according to Esquire, officials at Kushner's high school were "dismayed" that he was accepted, as neither his GPA nor his SAT scores warranted it. How did he get in, then? It may have something to do with his father's $2.5 million contribution to the esteemed university in 1998.
After leaving Harvard, Kushner took over his father's real estate business, but his record as a developer has been spotty. He made a splash in 2007 when he bought 666 Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion, but many now view that as a miscalculation, and according to CNN, "the building is struggling to cover its debt payments."
He also ran the New York Observer for 10 years before stepping down in January, but that's about it. He certainly has no background in politics. He has no diplomacy experience. All that can really be said about him is that he is loyal to Trump, which is all that seems to matter to the president.
Ivanka and Jared are palatable to the media mostly because they seem sane relative to other Trump appointees like Steve Bannon. Could these well-to-do, good-looking 30-somethings really be that bad? The media wants to believe they're not, but they haven't given much evidence to contrary. They haven't really given us much evidence of anything.
“I know all of this seems like an evisceration of both Jared and Ivanka," says a bewildered Oliver. "But it is really not. I don’t know enough about them to eviscerate them."
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