The world would be a safer place if Jared Kushner’s parents had not purchased him a place at Harvard. But they did, and here we are, in desperate need of a functional pandemic response — and forced to rely on Kushner, who believes, without evidence, that he should be the one in charge of it. Inside the shelter of the White House, the myth of Jared Kushner’s competence is self-sustaining. Viewed from the outside, matters look a lot more shambolic. Kushner, who once bragged about reading “25 books” to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and then didn’t solve it, now leads the Trump administration’s effort to respond to the coronavirus. It’s not going well.
According to a whistle-blower complaint, Kushner has populated his response team with volunteers who have little to no experience in the problems they were recruited to solve. “The document alleges that the team responsible for PPE had little success in helping the government secure such equipment, in part because none of the team’s members had significant experience in health care, procurement or supply-chain operations,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Right-wing journalists, including Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, enjoyed a direct line to the team, which allowed them to pass along tips or advice as the fancy took them.
This is all fairly typical for the Trump administration, and for Kushner’s performance in particular. The president is heavily reliant on his son-in-law despite the latter’s record of failure. The fact that Kushner advised Trump repeatedly that the media had exaggerated the threat of coronavirus is but one of his many errors. Before the pandemic, Trump tasked him to create a peace plan for Israel and Palestine, which, again, has not worked, partly because Kushner’s strategy was to blame Palestinians for the entire conflict.
Kushner defended his pet project to the Post, saying that it had “sourced tens of millions of masks and essential PPE in record time and Americans who needed ventilators received ventilators.” His volunteers, he added, were “true patriots.” But a national PPE shortage persists, and as the Post notes, the effort to gather masks and gloves has at times come into conflict with another Kushner-led effort to create more testing sites for probable COVID-19 patients. Kushner “promised thousands of testing sites, but only 78 materialized; the [PPE] stockpile was used to supply 44 of those over five to 10 days,” claimed another internal White House document obtained by the Post.
Trump either doesn’t care about Kushner’s failures, or is simply unable to view them as failures at all. The nepotism that lifted up Kushner is, in the end, an extension of Trump’s own narcissism. The president seems to believe little but the tale of his own acumen. The consequences of his self-delusion are broad. The lie sold by The Apprentice, the TV show which catapulted Trump to household fame, wasn’t just that he had a great mind for deals. Trump was the Ur-boss because he could recognize talent and draw it to him. He would only tolerate the sharpest wits. Trump accepts this as gospel, and so, years later, we get Kushner the wunderkind. No reason exists to think that Kushner is anything but the mediocre offspring of wealth — a quality he shares with his father-in-law. But he married Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and can string a sentence together in public, so he must possess preternatural executive skills. Trump, after all, will only work with the best.
Back in reality, thousands are dying, and Kushner is incapable of help. He has no background in public health, just as he had no background in diplomacy, and in a true meritocracy, he would push papers in a place where he could do no harm. His chief concerns should be his tee time, the weight of his business cards, the fit of his suits. But the authorities in his life keep promoting him far beyond his capacities, and Americans bear the burden of their arrogance. If the White House really does wind down the coronavirus task force overseen by the office of Vice-President Mike Pence, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, then Kushner’s dubious Team America is all we’ve got left.