The Clown Prince
Reader: Are you someone who is angry in an inchoate way at the Trump administration as an institution but who would prefer to focus your anger like a laser beam on specific individuals? We at The Baffler are here to help! As a wise man once told my father while trying to sell him a program at a Knicks game, “They’re just a bunch of tall guys in shorts, without a program”—and so, too, the various hangers-on in the Trump orbit may seem to be just a bunch of transparent grifters and/or terrifying ideologues in suits unless you have a clear guide for who the players are. We plan to bring you the key stats and career highlights of all the best people in the administration, as well as those who are “too hot” for government service and end up bounced out to the 2020 campaign, various 501c3 scams, or who just end up on the semi-consensual receiving end of those rambling “executive time” phone calls. This week: the willowy Harvard-educated son that Donald Trump never had, Jared Kushner!
The Devil’s Building What is there to say about Jared Kushner’s Trump administration triumphs? The country’s been transfixed, ever since his wife’s dad became president, by the adventures of “America’s Sweetheart,” as he leverages his power to solve all the world’s problems (see BONUS below) and defeat his internal White House enemies like Steve Bannon (TKO) and John Kelly (victory pending). But what about the man behind the legend? What events forged Jared into the savvy operator we know and love today? Does he thirst for revenge in his dark heart? Let’s find out!
Does Jared’s family have a dark past? Indeed it does! Jared’s billionaire real estate mogul father Charles was once, as the New York Times breathlessly reported as recently as the mid-George W. Bush administration, “one of the top Democratic donors in the country.” Also he’s a criminal, and a terrible human being! The problems started when he got caught donating money to campaigns in his business partners’ names without asking them, then escalated into a scandal involving tax evasion and witness tampering. Even aficionados of New Jersey political chaos might not remember this particular episode because it was eclipsed by Kushner ally Governor Jim McGreevy coming out of the closet and quitting in disgrace. But McGreevy’s rumored MMF post-TGIF threeways pale in comparison to the worst of Kushner pere’s crimes: hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, who was letting the feds know about the family’s improprieties, and then recording the assignation and sending the tapes to his sister.
McGreevy went to seminary to become an Episcopal priest (the Episcopal church said no to McGreevy’s priesthood quest) and Kushner went to a federal prison in Alabama. The prosecutor who put Kushner there was none other than U.S. Attorney Chris Christie; Christie would of course go on to become Governor of New Jersey himself, and, despite his early loyalty to Trump, found himself summarily fired from the Trump transition team by Jared in an act of unapologetic revenge for prosecuting Charles Kushner for all the crimes he committed.
Had Jared’s dad previously broken other various ethical rules … but this time to help Jared? Yes! In the late ’90s, Jared was a kid at a private school with “poise” but mediocre grades and SAT scores who wanted to go to Harvard. So big shot New Jersey Democratic donor Charles Kushner got Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to talk to Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Harvard), who in turn had a little chat with Harvard’s dean of admissions, and Jared became a newly minted Crimsonian (or whatever Harvard kids call themselves; we don’t know). The $250,000 annual gift Charles, not a Harvard alum himself, pledged to the school for the next ten years was wholly unrelated. Jared will not be attending his 15th reunion this year.
Did Jared drag down his family’s real estate empire with a terrible business decision? Yes! In 2007, when the real estate market was a nonstop rocket ride to the moon, Jared, 26 years old and with his freshly issued and well-earned degree from Harvard, fronted the family business’s move to buy 666 Fifth Avenue, described at the time as “gleaming,” for $1.8 billion, the most anyone’s ever paid for an office building in human history. The real estate market, along with most of the rest of the economy, almost immediately collapsed, and while four years later Kushner was putting a brave face on things by touting the money he made selling off parts of the building to various entities with terrifying names like “Vornado,” the truth is that he was heavily in debt for the parts he still owned.
The building has been a ticking time bomb, with a $1.2 billion balloon payment coming due in February 2019 —a figure that, inconveniently, is probably more than the building is actually worth, what with it being 30 percent vacant and only bringing in rent equal to about half its mortgage. And because it’s hemorrhaging so much cash, the property is very difficult to sell or refinance. The Kushners tried to do an “unusually favorable” deal with a Chinese company right after the election, but that fell through; then they had a meeting with the Qatari government that was said to be about getting a cash infusion for the building, but paragon of virtue Charles Kushner swore they had decided in advance that they were “not going to accept sovereign wealth fund investments,” because of how insanely obvious the conflicts of interest were.
Anyway, last week 666 Fifth Avenue got a miraculous and restorative round of cash not from the Qatari government, which would be wrong, but from Brookfield Property Partners, a company with an extremely WASP-y sounding name whose second largest investor is the Qatari government, which is a whole different thing. So the mortgage problems are gone, and now we’ll just have to see if some other problems get solved as well — problems like the blockade imposed on Qatar by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates right after the first deal with the Kushners fell apart, a blockade Trump tweeted enthusiastically about despite opposition from his own State and Defense departments. The Emirati-Saudi alliance’s biggest boosters in the United States, disgraced GOP moneyman Elliott Broidy and actual child molester George Nader, are having their own problems right now, so maybe the worm is about to turn for scrappy little Qatar. Having Kushner (who the mean Saudis called the “clown prince”) as an ally can’t hurt!
Did Jared try to become a respected newspaper-man? Yes! Like fellow rich weirdos Jeff Bezos and Charles Foster Kane, back in 2006 Jared yearned for the respectability (?) that owning a newspaper could provide. With only a $10 million “graduation present” to play with, all he could afford was the New York Observer, a small-circulation paper much beloved by the Manhattan elite. “I’m getting to hang around with journalists, and they are really smart!” Jared told a cab full of his new employees.
Kushner quickly fell out with editor Peter Kaplan (who was one of the main reasons the paper was respected in the first place), killed its print edition, and, as the 2016 election heated up, feuded with his own liberal employees. None of the New York cool kids who used to like the Observer like it anymore, but it actually makes money now for the first time in years, in a microcosm for the many ways life in the present time is depressing and bad.
Is Jared Kushner the legendary Slenderman? No.
Is Jared Kushner’s hair, which on first glance seems like a dark, lush coif of the sort one would expect for a 37-year-old who isn’t on the verge of male pattern baldness, actually a weird, complex combover/wrap situation, destined to become increasingly surreal as he ages and evil eats him up from the inside, just like his father-in-law’s? Yes.
BONUS: Jared Kushner, Minister with Many Portfolios
Our boy Jared’s complete lack of experience in government or diplomacy makes him the perfect “drain the swamp” candidate to tackle the issues of government and diplomacy that have bedeviled past administrations. Here is just a short list of the big problems Jared has solved in less than two years on the job:
Government not innovative enough
Mexico doesn’t like us
The whole Russia thing (James Comey fired, problem subsequently went away)