The Plague of Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner has gotten yet another nepotistic gig leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus “shadow task force.” The problem is, he doesn’t know anything about COVID-19, just like he doesn’t know anything about immigration reform or Middle East peace.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner joins members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force at the daily briefing on April 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Back in January, Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri penned an article titled “I have just read 25 books and am here to perform your open-heart surgery.” The piece was inspired by Jared Kushner’s recent claim that, because he had read exactly twenty-five (unspecified) books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was best qualified to resolve the whole seven-plus-decades-long mess (by definitively screwing the Palestinians, of course).

“To be very clear: Medicine is not my profession,” Petri, channeling Kushner, wrote. “I would describe it as more of a ‘recent hobby.’ In fact, I have a lot more important responsibilities, and I’m a little resentful, frankly, that this has also been put on my plate! But someone has to do it.”

As luck would have it, Trump’s son-in-law and prized adviser has now managed to catapult himself into the medical realm in real life, as coronavirus has provided yet another cool opportunity for egregious nepotism — alongside the other activities on Kushner’s plate, from solving immigration to WhatsApping with homicidal Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Kushner is currently presiding over a “shadow task force” to deal with the pandemic, adding yet more confusion and chaos to the United States’ already schizophrenic response. Politico reports that Kushner’s vast private sector–based operation, which entails a “kitchen cabinet of outside experts including his former roommate and a suite of McKinsey consultants,” has enabled him to take “charge of the most important challenges facing the federal government” — clearly a logical leadership position for the man who initially assured Trump that coronavirus wasn’t a big deal and is thus more than slightly responsible for the lethal delay in addressing the outbreak in the first place.

Politico goes on to note that there is “limited vetting of private companies’ and executives’ financial interests, raising questions about the motivations and potential conflicts inherent” in the Kushnerian coronavirus enterprise, while the various projects it encompasses are “so decentralized that one team often has little idea what others are doing — outside of that they all report up to Kushner.” As if anyone ever doubted private-sector efficiency.

Kushner has, it seems, also made every effort to render his shadow task force as shadowy as possible. Communications are being conducted using personal rather than government emails, and there’s no public record of what precisely the group is up to. In addition to being apparently illegal, such behavior does not inspire much confidence in the possibility that the primary goal of the operation is to benefit public health rather than the Kushner family bank account. This is particularly the case following the revelation that a health-insurance company linked to Kushner and his brother was busy designing a government coronavirus website. (The undertaking was abandoned at the last minute.)

The New York Times, meanwhile, quotes a senior US administration official’s description of the Kushner team as a “‘frat party’ that descended from a U.F.O. and invaded the federal government” — thereby providing one of the most articulate depictions of the presidential son-in-law-cum-alien-frat-boy in contemporary circulation. Less impressively, a Times op-ed originally titled “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed” was subsequently downgraded to “Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness.”

And yet he’s already complicit in an untold number of deaths, beyond those caused by discouraging Trump from getting his ass in gear. According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, Kushner shot down New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that his state — a coronavirus epicenter — was short thirty thousand ventilators: “I have all this data about ICU capacity. I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Naturally, Trump immediately parroted it.)

Sounds like the old “25 books” approach.

Then there was Kushner’s intriguingly sociopathic argument that the United States’ national stockpile of medical supplies for use in public health emergencies was somehow not meant to be used by, you know, the states comprising the nation.

Attempts by individual states to procure their own equipment by placing orders via “Project Airbridge,” however — another Kushner-led endeavor to fly in medical supplies from overseas — have reportedly been intermittently thwarted, with the federal government seizing and redirecting shipments as it sees fit.

Sometimes, though, folks don’t even have to place an official order to get what they want — like the time Trump heard “from friends” that N95 masks were needed somewhere and, poof, Kushner made it happen. This, mind you, is an example Kushner himself held up as evidence of his own wondrous effectiveness. No matter that such haphazard and unregulated favoritism in a time of extraordinary crisis means loads of people are falling through the cracks — many of them inevitably to their deaths.

Writing at the Law and Political Economy blog about “slumlord capitalism” and COVID-19, CUNY Law School professor John Whitlow emphasizes that the United States’ response has been conditioned by the fact that the government is “helmed by landlords, real estate developers, and financiers whose fortunes have been made — and whose worldview has been shaped — by years of predatory and extractive business practices.” Among those at the helm, of course, is Kushner, who, “like Trump, inherited his family’s real estate holdings, updated the business model, and expanded its geographical footprint” — persecuting poor tenants and exacerbating racial and socioeconomic inequality while simultaneously exploiting tax incentives and lucrative legal loopholes.

Unsurprisingly, patterns of inequality have held firm during the pandemic — with poor and working-class communities hit especially hard and black people dying disproportionately.

And as long as Kushner is allowed to deal with every last crisis he knows absolutely nothing about, it’s pretty much the equivalent of a plague on humanity.