Can America survive the era of Trump family values?
Donald Kirk says Donald Trump demeans the presidential office each time he persists in elevating or defending favoured family members, but the bright side is that the US media is doggedly on the case
Americans like to believe their experiment in democracy is a global trend-setter. If there’s one particular sin they love to point out, it’s that of nepotism. Look at all these terrible dictators appointing their relatives to high positions, they say with righteous indignation. Why can’t they be more like us – democratic, fair-minded, egalitarian, fair and just?
No powerful global leader, however, is guiltier of the sin of nepotism than Donald Trump. He seems to think his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, qualifies as a top adviser on just about everything. Kushner sits in on sessions involving domestic and foreign policy, both in the White House and during travels abroad. He has a “secret” security clearance that entitles him to highly sensitive information on which he comments in meetings with officials from the Pentagon and the National Security Council.
Kushner owes his high-level connection to his marriage to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, creator of a brand of women’s high fashion. She too qualifies, in her father’s opinion, as a senior unsalaried adviser – and even occupied his chair briefly at the recent gathering of G20 leaders in Hamburg. Neither she, nor her father, nor her husband see any conflict of interest inherent in her firm’s relying on ill-paid workers in Third World countries to produce the clothing that her company purveys, while Daddy promotes “Made in America Week” – urging manufacturers to make their products on US soil.
Then there’s Donald Jr, in the headlines, at the top of the TV news, for his secret talks with some Russian lawyer who was supposed to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton long before last November’s presidential election.
Those are just the most obvious examples of beneficiaries of the Trump family nepotism.
The cascading reports have had a terrible effect on Trump’s presidency. Not only is he immensely unpopular, he is also unable to ram through important legislation on which he campaigned and has staked his presidency. Some of this legislation – such as his attempt to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare, a national health insurance scheme that would leave more Americans without access to proper care – is terrible. Perhaps it’s just as well he’s not able to do what he wants.
Here, however, is a way out of the mess that he doesn’t seem to have considered. Why doesn’t he just get rid of Kushner, kick him out of the White House, tell him to get his hands off the government?
And how about calling Donald Jr what he is, a spoilt rich kid who has no business talking to anybody about anything to do with politics or policy? Unfortunately, Trump, the president, is not at all inclined to get rid of his favoured family members. He persists in defending them without realising how he’s demeaning his office.
Trump in statement calls Donald Jr a ‘high-quality person’
There may, however, be an upside to the drip-drip of scandals pertaining to the nepotism of Donald Trump. That is, at least the domestic media is on the case.
The US networks have been reporting minute by minute on revelations of who was in the room with Donald Jr when he met the lawyer from Moscow. The New York Times, besides having revealed the meeting in the first place, floods its editorial and op-ed pages with commentaries attacking Trump. The Washington Post is competing with the Times for who can say the most, who can reveal the worst, who can come up with new ways to undermine the president.
Can one imagine such unremitting attacks on the leaders of other countries mired in nepotism with overtones of corruption? Could it be that the US is still setting an example for the freedom of the press? Or is the nepotism of the Trump administration a huge weight on the democratic process?
And will Trump, defying demands to reform his government and fire his family members, set a precedent that will significantly compromise the ability of the US to respond effectively to crises abroad?
The Trump presidency faces an uncertain future in which the media and opposition politicians, as well as members of his own party, are attempting to destroy him before he can do much of anything. The attacks on Trump risk severely weakening US foreign policy. How, for instance, can America deal with North Korean threat while Trump has to place the highest priority on defending himself? Or, conversely, might Trump overreact to foreign threats in order to divert attention from problems at home?
The problem is, Trump doesn’t get it. His first act, in order to extricate himself from the immediate dilemma, should be to dam the stream of outrage by saying, sorry, nepotism is not a good idea, and I’m going to stop it.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. For the rest of his presidency, we’re going to have to endure weird tales of favouritism.
Might the Trump royal family survive unscathed while the US descends deeper into the tradition of nepotism? It’s a good sign that the American media is pointing the finger at him and his family, rather than at all those foreign dictatorships that are so often the target of easy criticism.
Donald Kirk, author of several books on Korea and Southeast Asia, has been observing US politics from his base in Washington