The Boy in Behind the Throne

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The Boy in Behind the Throne
Note: The headline writer for the following piece was being too generous. Trump’s son-in-law has no business being in government.

Trump’s son-in-law has no business running the coronavirus response.

By Michelle Goldberg
Opinion Columnist
The Washington Post
April 2, 2020

Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist.

“I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law.

Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees. “Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday.

This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner’s business record for her recent book “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power,” speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, “really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned.

Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard.

Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion — a record, at the time — for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007.

The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.)

He gutted the once-great New York Observer, then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support.

Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Now, in our hour of existential horror, Kushner is making life-or-death decisions for all Americans, showing all the wisdom we’ve come to expect from him.

“Mr. Kushner’s early involvement with dealing with the virus was in advising the president that the media’s coverage exaggerated the threat,” reported The Times. It was apparently at Kushner’s urging that Trump announced, falsely, that Google was about to launch a website that would link Americans with coronavirus testing.

(As The Atlantic reported, a health insurance company co-founded by Kushner’s brother — which Kushner once owned a stake in — tried to build such a site, before the project was “suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.”)

The president was reportedly furious over the website debacle, but Kushner’s authority hasn’t been curbed.

Politico reported that Kushner, “alongside a kitchen cabinet of outside experts including his former roommate and a suite of McKinsey consultants, has taken charge of the most important challenges facing the federal government,” including the production and distribution of medical supplies and the expansion of testing.

Kushner has embedded his own people in the Federal Emergency Management Agency; a senior official described them to The Times as “a ‘frat party’ that descended from a U.F.O. and invaded the federal government.

Disaster response requires discipline and adherence to a clear chain of command, not the move-fast-and-break-things approach of start-up culture.

Even if Kushner “were the most competent person in the world, which he clearly isn’t, introducing these kind of competing power centers into a crisis response structure is a guaranteed problem,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a former U.S.A.I.D. official who helped manage the response to the Ebola crisis during Barack Obama’s administration, told me.

“So you could have Trump and Kushner and Pence and the governors all be the smartest people in the room, but if there are multiple competing power centers trying to drive this response, it’s still going to be chaos.”

Competing power centers are a motif of this administration, and its approach to the pandemic is no exception.

As The Washington Post reported, Kushner’s team added “another layer of confusion and conflicting signals within the White House’s disjointed response to the crisis.” Nor does his operation appear to be internally coherent. “Projects are so decentralized that one team often has little idea what others are doing — outside of that they all report up to Kushner,” reported Politico.

On Thursday, Governor Cuomo said that New York would run out of ventilators in six days. Perhaps Kushner’s projections were incorrect. “I don’t think the federal government is in a position to provide ventilators to the extent the nation may need them,” Cuomo said. “Assume you are on your own in life.” If not in life, certainly in this administration.
www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/opinion/jared-kushner-coronavi…
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Trump is responsible for our unfolding coronavirus disaster
Michael Gerson
The Washington Post
July 6, 2020

The United States is entering dangerous, uncharted territory. With a little more than 4 percent of the world’s population, our country has about 25 percent of coronavirus infections.

Over the course of five months, more Americans have lost their lives to this disease (127,000 and counting) than died in World War I (116,516).

New infections have reaccelerated and are rising toward some unknown peak.

And we have a president who doesn’t appear to give a damn.

How did we get here? The story is relatively simple.

Through shutdowns and social distancing, Americans flattened the curve of new infections. But we plateaued at a very high level — roughly 20,000 a day during most of May. (Contrast this with France, which flattened the curve to a plateau of roughly 400 daily cases.)

Then came Memorial Day. Many Americans — with the encouragement of some politicians — took this as the mental end of the crisis phase. On May 25, there were roughly 18,000 new infections. On June 25, it was 40,000. Six days after that, 53,000.

And a few weeks from now, the Fourth of July harvest of stupidity will be revealed.

On the second upswing of the first wave — where we currently stand — the profile of the disease has changed.

Because nursing homes are better protected and the elderly have adhered to pandemic hygiene, the average age of someone infected by the disease has fallen by roughly two decades.

Though a significant number still need hospitalization, fatality rates are lower. America is doing a better job shielding the most vulnerable.

But there are two problems.

First, following covid-19’s assault on the body, a significant number of younger people end up with long-term health complications.

One doctor I know says that 40-year-old patients he has treated sometimes end up climbing stairs like wheezing senior citizens. Researchers warn of lingering damage to the brain.

President Trump’s claim that 99 percent of covid-19 cases are “totally harmless” is a cruel lie.

Second, allowing the exponential spread of the disease will eventually make protecting the vulnerable an impossible task. All our islands of safety for the ill and elderly are endangered when the sea level of infection rapidly rises.

Many Americans simply don’t understand what exponential growth means. Three million infections can quickly bloom to 10 million infections, and higher. Even with a relatively low fatality rate, this could easily leave more than half a million Americans dead.

Who is responsible for this unfolding national disaster?

It starts at the top, where Trump has been a determined and creative ally of the virus.

In mid-April, the president simultaneously endorsed a strategy for gradual, prudent reopening of the economy and began egging on populist advocates of immediate reopening. It was clear to everyone where his sympathies truly lay.

Rather than bucking up governors to continue shutdowns until the burden of disease was manageable, Trump undercut them for his own (perceived) benefit.

Foolish, reckless governors quickly got the message that economic recovery was more urgent than pandemic responsibility.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) actually stripped localities of the authority to issue stay-at-home orders so no one could resist his aggressive reopening plan.

But even governors who demonstrate concern about people’s lives have found many Americans — particularly younger Americans — increasingly resistant to basic pandemic precautions.

The successful control of infectious disease — using bed nets against malaria, adhering to AIDS medications, social distancing to inhibit the spread of the novel coronavirus — is ultimately a matter of individual behavior.

Successful attempts to improve such behavior on a large scale require a consistent message from all the commanding heights of a culture — the medical profession, the government, the church and the media.

The default position for many Americans is a robust individualism that leads to suspicion of government mandates. Overcoming this natural tendency requires energetic persuasion.

In the coronavirus crisis, the medical profession has done its job by providing the facts.

But the government (see Trump), the church (see Trump’s evangelical enablers) and the media (see Fox News and talk radio) have encouraged broad skepticism about essential health measures. In the process, they have created a right-wing constituency for preventable death.

There are two options here. Either Americans will be rudely jerked toward sanity by the sight of rapidly filling graves, or leaders of determination and talent will rise above the self-destructive strife and make deliverance from illness and death a unifying national cause.

The president has left this role vacant. It needs filling.
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-responsible-for-…
By A.Davey on 2020-07-07 07:12:55
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