by Robert Reich
CA.) – Before I turn to Jared Kushner, let me ask: Do you believe the
government does the right thing all or most of the time?
started asking this question in 1963, when over 70 percent of
Americans said they did. Since then, the percent has steadily
declined. By 2016, before Trump became president, only 16
of Americans agreed.
the decline? Surely
various disappointments and scandals played a part – Vietnam,
Watergate, Iran-Contra, “weapons of mass destruction,”
the Wall Street bailout.
the largest factor by
far has been the rise of big money in politics. Most people no longer
believe their voices count.
view is backed by
solid research. Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Professor
Benjamin Page of Northwestern University analyzed 1,799 policy issues
that came before Congress, and found
“the preferences of the average American appear to have only a
miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon
Gilens and Page
lawmakers respond to the policy demands of wealthy individuals and
moneyed business interests – those with the most lobbying
prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.
likely far worse
now. Gilens and Page’s data came from 1981 to 2002, before the
Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in its Citizens
United and McCutcheon decisions.
money, Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest
and Bernie Sanders –
authoritarian populist and progressive populist, respectively –
based their shockingly successful campaigns on the public’s
outrage at the corruption of our democracy by big money. Sanders
called for a “political revolution.” Trump promised to
“drain the swamp.”
it, of course. He’s turned the entire government into a giant
bog of lobbyists, real estate moguls, Wall Streeters, and
brings us to Jared
Kushner, the putative swamp-drainer’s son-in-law, and major
may yet be indicted
in Robert Mueller’s investigation. But it could turn out that
Kushner’s most significant contribution to the stench of this
administration will come from his financial conflicts of interest.
he took the White
House job, Kushner chose not to follow the usual practice of wealthy
people when they join administrations – putting their assets
into blind trusts managed by outside experts.
control over the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies,
worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics
how has Kushner
separated his business dealings from his dealings on behalf of the
United States? He hasn’t.
last week that after the CEOs of Citigroup and Apollo Global
Management attended White House meetings set up by Kushner, the two
firms loaned the Kushner family business more than $500 million.
once the loan
was received, the Securities and Exchange Commission dropped
an inquiry of Apollo Global Management.
offshore dollars from Qatar
real-estate firm sought hundreds of millions of dollars directly from
the Qatar government, for its distressed property on Fifth Avenue,
reports the Intercept.
Soon after Qatar turned down the request, Kushner supported a
diplomatic assault on Qatar that sparked a crisis continuing today.
is such an easy
mark that officials in at least four countries have privately
discussed ways to manipulate him with financial deals, according to
insists that he’s
done nothing wrong, and there’s no direct evidence he has
profited off his position in White House or put personal financial
interests ahead of the interests of the American public.
that’s not the
point. Conflicts of interest are always difficult to prove, which is
why we have ethics rules to avoid even the appearance
it sure looks as if
Kushner is using his White House perch to make money for himself,
just as is his father-in-law.
as bad for a
government official to look as if he’s lining his pockets as
for him to actually do so, because the appearance of corruption
undermines public trust just as readily as the real thing. And trust
is what distinguishes an advanced democracy from a banana republic.
Trump and the members
of his family he’s brought into his White House don’t
give a hoot about public trust. They have utter contempt for
common good. Government ethics officials have compared
administration to a game of whack-a-mole – go after one
potential violation, and others pop up.
himself that the American public is already so cynical about big
money’s takeover of our democracy that his own apparent, or
real, conflicts are chicken feed by comparison.
may be true. But by
adding to the distrust, Kushner is doing his own bit to destroy
American democracy – actions almost as treasonous as if he
colluded with Russians to make his father-in-law president.
B. REICH is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the
University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum
Center for Developing Economies.
served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration and Time
magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries
of the 20th century.
Reich has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock,
The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage
and most recently Saving
is also a founding editor of The
magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary
INEQUALITY FOR ALL.