Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Jared Kushner just got a promotion. Another one. At least I think we can call it that, and it’s a deliciously perfect assignment. The pallid princeling is now responsible for speeding construction of the border wall. In other words, a make-believe fixer will oversee a fairy-tale fix.
Josh Dawsey and Nick Miroff of The Washington Post broke the news, and when I read it, I realized that I hadn’t heard much about Jared — or, for that matter, Ivanka — in a good long while. They’re front and center when the administration is announcing some ostensibly sensible initiative or claiming a pittance of progress. But when its corruption is being exposed and the drizzle of subpoenas becomes a downpour, they vanish, cuddling for warmth under the gilded umbrella of their hallucinatory virtue.
We can pretty much chart the weather of the administration by the relative visibility of Donald Jr., so loud and hirsute, and Jared, so smooth-cheeked and mute. Donald Jr. thrives when it’s nastiest, stomping gleefully through the muck. Jared comes out only if his suit won’t get dirty or his hair wet.
During the impeachment inquiry, we’ve seen a lot of Donald Jr. That’s partly because he has been hawking his new book, copies of which the Republican National Committee spent nearly $100,000 on. But it’s also because he’s such a ready, eager conduit for his father’s wrath, with a talent for exaggeration and misdirection that’s clearly chromosomal.
Jared and Ivanka have been strategically scarce, though Ivanka did flutter into view, in a fashion, when President Donald Trump boasted two weeks ago that she had created 14 million jobs since the inauguration. “Fourteen million and going up!” he clarified, lest anyone get the misimpression that she thought her work was done. Never! On behalf of the American people, Ivanka is tireless. There’s no rest for the weary, and there’s even less of it for those who live at the crossroads of self-infatuation and delusion.
In an interview last month on Fox Business, Ivanka said that she and Dad were “fighting every day for the American worker” and that she was determined to “drive hard every single day to make an impact.”
“Your time and service — our time here — is finite,” she mused, and while I’d love to believe that she was prophesying her and her father’s imminent eviction from the White House, I think she was referring, in her deeply spiritual way, to the span of a human life. “It’s sand through an hourglass.” As Ivanka serves us, she never forgets the sand.
Democrats believe the Trump administration’s void of ethics will sour American voters on the president. But those voters are likelier to abandon him for the administration’s vacuum of competence — for his nonsensical managerial style, captured in his magical thinking about Jared.
He tasked Jared with reinventing the federal government. Unless constant rash firings, unfilled jobs and shakedowns of foreign governments constitute reinvention, this remains on Jared’s infinite to-do list. The president put Jared in charge of brokering a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Insert punch line here. He followed Jared’s counsel that faith be placed in Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. We know how that worked out.
The president somehow looked at that track record and decided that the dynamo he should entrust with his central campaign promise — a secure barrier between the United States and Mexico — was … Jared! And so we have the trillionth gorgeous example of his investment in fiction.
Nearly three years into Trump’s presidency, the border wall barely exists. Subtract the upgrading of fencing and such that was already there and Trump has, by some recent estimates, constructed fewer than 25 miles of actually new barrier. The southwestern border is nearly 2,000 miles long.
But Jared is on the case! According to The Post, he “convenes biweekly meetings in the West Wing, where he questions an array of government officials about progress” and “explains the president’s wishes.” Huh. Those wishes are hardly cryptic, and how complicated can this questioning be? Already, The Post reported, there’s grumbling that Jared is just an annoyance.
That belittles his symbolic significance. Many journalists, including me, have tried to settle on the perfect mascot for the Trump administration. There are choices galore. The greedy, vainglorious Scott Pruitt, who did his best to decimate the Environmental Protection Agency, fit the bill, but he’s long gone. Mike Pompeo embodies the Faustian arc of so many of the president’s aides and allies, from principle-driven dismissal of Trump during the 2016 campaign to reputation-torching submission when he dangled a ticket to the big time.
But for naked opportunism and situational scruples, Jared’s my guy. Remember how he and Ivanka were going to contain the president’s ego, blunt his cruelty, whisper sweet moderation in his ear? That was then. Now he’s devoting himself to an exorbitant, unnecessary monument to Trump’s nativism and xenophobia.
There’s an upside, though. With Jared in the saddle, this horse won’t go far.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times.