Donald Trump has tapped his son-in-law, Jared Kushner to head an “office” to “overhaul the federal bureaucracy,” the Washington Post reported Monday. Kushner, husband to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, will lead the White House Office of American Innovation, which the Post reported is “viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants.” It’s going to focus on using private sector “innovations” to streamline the work of government. It’s going to rely on the ideas of large corporations, particularly in technology and data, and the ideas of billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk. Kushner is already using it to rhetorically redefine key aspects of American democracy in an alarming way.
This is alarming because Trump is creating an independent power center that answers to him, which will give private interests power to wrench elected and duly appointed officials in directions beneficial to them. And Trump is relying heavily on the nepotism of his “consigliere” son-in-law, who has emerged as one of the top power brokers in the White House, and who was not vetted in any way. Most of the public had barely heard of him before the election. Now he’s one of the most powerful people in America.
Many presidents have set out to try to reorganize government. Some, like Franklin Roosevelt, have succeeded in sweeping ways that helped the American people and bolstered the middle class. Others, like Ronald Reagan, bolstered law enforcement and the incarceration state to imprison the poor, and rearranged the tax code to enrich the rich. For others, it was little more than rhetoric.
If Trump were a normal Republican, we would likely just expect sweeping tax cuts. But given the dark cloud of suspicion that hangs over Trump’s rise to power, his opaque business dealings, and his connections to Russia, this could be something more revolutionary. Trump signed an executive order on March 14th that ordered the Office of Management and Budget to “eliminate unnecessary agencies.” Most importantly, Trump has appointed Cabinet members who are avowedly hostile to the agencies they are responsible for leading. Trump has also not bothered to staff a lot of key roles just below the Secretary level. It does seem that Trump truly plans to let dozens of agencies wither and die, and then hand their functions over to private interests, probably for his own family’s personal profit.
Kushner Uses His New Power To Redefine What It Means To Be An American Citizen
Combine this plan for reorganization with some of the rhetoric that Kushner used to defend the effort, Monday, and it creates a truly chilling picture. The Post reported that Kushner described his vision,
“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
it should go without saying that everything about this statement is nonsense. A lot of American companies are not exactly “great.” Look no further than the Trump Organization, which has repeatedly gone bankrupt, lost its investors a lot of money, scammed thousands of people, used eminent domain to try to kick people off their property, used Chinese steel to undercut American steel workers, etc., etc. And when it gets itself into trouble, the man, and his family/advisers who are responsible use an army of lawyers unavailable to most people to harass their critics. That’s not a model for good governance. And that’s just one example. Don’t even get me started on Wells Fargo or Lockheed Martin.
Yes, there is inefficiency in government bureaucracy. That’s the side effect of the government’s mandate to consider the public good, separate from considerations of profit, and seek consensus, using objective facts, under the glaring light of public accountability. Does it always achieve that ideal? No, far from it. But that is not any reason to turn it into the “efficiency” of a corporation, a top-down decision-making structure that only considers its bottom line, is hyper aggressive in pursuit of its own profit and enriching its investors, and is legally protected from public accountability. A corporation is an inherently authoritarian structure. The government has an obligation to the public to enforce the line between public and private, aggressively if necessary. And since the rice of private contracting in WWII, and the failure to break up monopolies in the last several decades, which has been steadily snowballing in recent years, there is little left in the federal bureaucracy to stand in Trump’s way if he attempts a hostile corporate takeover of the US government. Trump and Kushner want to erase the public/private line entirely. That is a recipe for aristocracy.
The last part of Kushner’s statement gives us a peek at Trump’s longterm plans. Citizens of the United States are not “customers.” If you want to discuss American society in business terms, the American people are the board of directors. We may not make the day-to-day decisions, but we decide if the executive keeps his job or not. Reducing We the People to “customers” is a huge demotion. Consider that a customer of a business can call up the customer service line to file a complaint. The company decides for itself how to respond, if at all, and the public has no right to know what those discussions were like. Customers have no power to unseat the chief executive of a business, no matter how out of control it might be. Unfortunately, in one sense, roughly half of Americans who never vote are already passive consumers of American democracy. But Kushner is strongly implying that it should be all of us, except for ‘da family,’ capisce?
Kushner should remember that the terms and conditions of the contract between the American people and our government are,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”
It is the bedrock immortal truth of American democracy that if the government ever reneges on its end of this agreement, it automatically triggers the arbitration clause:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The Constitution has contained generations of great social upheaval, but for most Americans, at most times in our history, this basic arrangement has held. We still have the power to fire our government and elect a new one. We have gone 240 years without having to fundamentally test this agreement, which is a remarkable historical record for a democratic republic. Does Trump really want to be the president who finds out the hard way whether or not it still applies?