Nepotism is the New Normal in Trump's White House

Nepotism is the New Normal in Trump's White House

On Wednesday, March 29th, Ivanka Trump made the announcement that she will become a formal employee of the federal government. Though she already had an office in the West Wing, the first daughter now joins her husband, Jared Kushner, as an unpaid employee in Washington. It goes without saying that the move is unprecedented; no first-child (or first-son-in-law for that matter) has ever served in this capacity.

Ivanka will take on the formal title “assistant to the President,” a term almost as nebulous at the mantle of “senior adviser” that applies to her husband.

In a statement issued by the White House, Ivanka recognized the irregularity of her appointment, “While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president [in the West Wing], I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees.”

But does that promise really mean anything?

The Trump-Kushners’ refusal to accept pay allows them to skirt the 1967 nepotism law which prevents government employees, from the President right on down, from hiring or promoting relatives. Their non-salaries also permit the President to lean back on legislation which permits him to appoint employees in the White House office without regard to any other provision of law regulating the employment or compensation of persons in the government service."

While her appointment may be above board, Ivanka still owns her fashion and jewelry companies, has a nominal role in the Trump Organization, and sundry investment and real estate initiatives with her husband. Whether she will divest herself of any of these remains to be seen, but her retention of any of them presents massive opportunities for conflict of interest and self-promotion.

Her promise to be good may just be lip service – as I can’t imagine someone takes an unpaid position at the White House out of the goodness of their heart.

Many D.C. folk also remain skeptical. Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and king of understatement, told VICE News, “I would say that the White House staff, up to and including the president, to date have not given us a lot of confidence.”

Her appointment comes at a time when her husband and “senior adviser” Jared Kushner is under investigation for collusion with the Russian government, in addition to wielding a lot of power at the White House lately.

It’s probably worth taking some time to discuss this guy.

He was just appointed to lead the Washington Office of American Innovation, a committee that has been sold as a SWAT team of reform for bloated Washington bureaucracy. It’s an in-house management consultancy with a spoiler and spinning rims.

Kushner has said that the new agency will operate non-ideologically, taking the best ideas from both sides to streamline American government. He told the Washington Post “We should have excellence in government. The government should be run like a great American company.”

I couldn’t disagree more. But even if you like the concept that the government should operate like a successful corporation instead of a welfare state designed to serve its citizens and provide infrastructure, Kushner is far from a business expert. He has worked for his family’s real estate firm and was briefly a newspaper publisher, a venture which did not succeed.

But I bet he’s fun on the links and partakes in a mean cigar and scotch session, and that’s the kind of yes-man the President looks for in his advisors. Besides, him already being part of the family exempts him from the standard Trump paranoia that seems to have afflicted so many other advisors.

How else can you explain Kushner’s huge scope of work. In addition to being the head of an agency with a murky goal and murkier authority, Kushner has also been charged with working on “trade” (whatever that means), a resolution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, Middle Eastern policy more broadly, reforming the Veterans Administration, and working towards a solution to the opioid crisis. He’ll also apparently be spearheading Trump’s sure-to-never-see-the-light-of-day infrastructure program that will, among other things, bring broadband Internet to every American home.

I’m no ombudsman, but that umbrella of duties seems to represent the work of several departments, not one man who happens to be married to the President’s daughter.

Competence and reality aside, Kushner and Ivanka are here to stay in the White House, and it seems fair to conclude that they will have the President’s ear for the foreseeable future. And while I can’t support their nepotistic appointments, nor can I pretend that their utter lack of experience inspires confidence, I think they could actually be a boon to the interest of the American people in the White House.

Both have a history of reasonable dealing, they are well behaved in public, speak intelligently, and with forethought, hell, he’s even a Democrat. They also represent an advisorial alternative to Bannon’s ‘burn it down’ policy and the pathetic brown-nosery of Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller. Maybe their privileged position will allow them to temper the President’s mania and focus his attention on some sober initiatives that might actually help people. (She’s for the empowerment of women in business, he believes in incentivizing small business, it isn’t all bad!)

So, while their road to the White House is littered with affronts to decency and common sense, now that they’re there, I say we give the Trump-Kushners a chance to prove themselves. They might surprise us.