America only ever heard mutterings of nepotism in the White House. No storm of protest greeted the appointment of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the president, as the senior advisor in the White House. Such an appointment reeks strongly of nepotism, adding onto the unpredictability of an already very unorthodox president.
Kushner is only one example of the nepotism that has infiltrated the White House. Placing his investment fund, real estate and his newspaper publication in a blind trust apparently freed Kushner from anti-nepotism laws, even though he is still a beneficiary of his business. Federal interpreters of the law, such as assistant attorney general Daniel Koffsky have ruled it does not violate the anti-nepotism law citing the degree of freedom a president has in appointing his advisors.
While legal in the eyes of Koffsky, ethics lawyers have stated that “such an arrangement would violate a federal statute designed to prevent family ties from influencing the functioning of the United States government.” The appointment of Kushner as senior advisor may not be a legal trespass of the law, but it is an ethical one.
As Kushner owns a private business, it seems inevitable that a conflict of interest will appear between corporate profits and the benefit to America. It has wider intimations as to how Trump is sailing his ship of state. Speculation on this conflict of interest were highlighted by the news of a business deal between Kushner and a Chinese insurance company where Kushner stands to receive over $400 million.
The role of Ivanka Trump in the White House has also expanded to an unprecedented degree. She has gained access to the West Wing as well as classified information. Even more shockingly, she has been admitted to important talks involving the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Despite having no basic right to be on the scene, she is deeply involved in crucial decision-making and government discussion.
What excuses her from the anti-nepotism law is the lack of an official position and a government salary. She has untold influence in the policies of America in all but name. Moreover, there are no distinct political achievements or experiences that qualify, much less her commend her, to a position of such importance. Her only “qualifying” factor is her relation to the president, which points once again to the forces of privilege and nepotism.
Ivanka, who owns fashion retail business, Ivanka Trump Marks, has passed management of her company to her top executive and placed the assets in the hands of her relatives. However, according to the New York Times, she keeps financial interest in her company and retains the ability to approve deals while receiving reports on loss and profit regarding her company.
Despite all these public moves to prove that the corporate interests of President Donald Trump and his family are segregated from the Trump administration, it has in fact become increasingly hard to separate the two. President Trump’s tweet slamming Nordstrom for refusing to sell his daughter’s products and Kellyanne Conway’s advertisement of Ivanka’s products on national television has resulted in soaring online sales for her company, as well as allegations that her father’s political capital gave her company an unfair market advantage. Whether deliberate or not, it has wrought changes on the presidential image, making the White House a billboard advertisement.
Still, Ivanka and her husband, Kushner, could still prove to be a moderating influence on President Trump. The couple reportedly help persuade the president to drop a LGBTQ+ order nullifying the protections given during the Obama administrations. Additionally, Kushner has been working to establish a more amicable relationship between Mexico and the United States, despite clashes between the two presidents.
In President Trump’s favor, nepotism in the 2017 White House is hardly a ground-breaking precedent. In the past centuries, presidential administrations have seen a fair share of sordid history in nepotism. John Adams, the second president of the United States, appointed his son, John Quincy Adams, as a foreign diplomat to Prussia, grooming him to one day take over the presidency. Eighteenth president Ulysses S. Grant appointed more than 40 relatives to his administration, engulfing the White House in a cloud of scandal and disrepute.
In more recent years, former President Bill Clinton designated his wife, Hillary Clinton, as head of healthcare reform and former President George W. Bush certainly used his father’s presidency as a political springboard. Robert Kennedy, a champion of civil rights, was appointed attorney general by his brother, 35th President John F. Kennedy, prior to the nepotism law of 1967 passed in response to Robert Kennedy’s appointment.
Still, the appointment of Ivanka and Kushner presents an ethical liability and real danger in terms of interest. Being passably legal, there is no way to dislodge Trump’s daughter and son-in-law from the White House but the couple have corporate investment in large-scale enterprises. Who knows if and when conflict will arise?
Featured Image Credit: Jenny Chang