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Anti-Nepotism Vs. Adult Supervision for Donald Trump

Moderating the US president and keeping him from erratic isolation may fall to his children and especially his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

February 14, 2017

Right to left: President Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner. Official diplomatic meeting November 2016. (Photo Credit: Government of Japan)

The three eldest Trump children – Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — and a son-in-law – Jared Kushner –serving in the Donald Trump administration, acting as a group, to a certain extent reprise the role played by Bobby Kennedy in the JFK administration.

Bobby, who served as U.S. Attorney General, was JFK’s brother and the one deemed the better and smarter political operator. The president appointed him not just to have a very close “inside man” in that post, but to give his brother an official seat at the table in many important meetings, sort of as his political eyes and ears.

The younger Kennedy acted unofficially as a steadying influence on his older brother and very much his “inside” counsel and confidant.

There has been some question as to whether the so-called “Bobby Kennedy law” against nepotistic appointments might prevent the Trump sons, Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner from performing these roles. So far, that has not been an impediment.

There was a certain unease in U.S. politics at the time about Bobby’s role, including inside the Democratic Party, given his lack of qualifications, although he went on to serve well. Nevertheless, it is now a prohibited practice.

This may have been considered somewhat astounding considering the facts that a father and son – the Adamses (John and John Quincy) – as President and Minister to Prussia, respectively from 1797 to 1801– set a competent, early precedent in the history of the American Republic.

The younger Adams served the country very ably overseas and later became president, too.

Of postmasters and presidents

Fast forward a couple of centuries. In 1967, Neal Smith, a Congressman from Iowa, pushed through a ban on a widespread problem in his state — small-town postmasters hiring relatives on the federal dime.

The measure he proposed also included a ban on unscrupulous Congressmen employing their wives and children in no-show jobs and extended up to the U.S. presidency for good measure. (It was first proposed the year the Kennedys took office.)

Notably, the no-show family hiring practice has long been a widespread practice in France – and is about to cost Francois Fillon, until recently the frontrunner to become the next French President – his career (due to his paying his wife Penelope for many years for a no-show job).

It is Smith’s anti-neoptism law that, half a century later, now puts a damper on Donald Trump’s efforts to hire part of his clan in the White House.

While this looks like just another Trump overreach, it is worth thinking through the issue under the particular circumstances prevailing now.

Those who are calling loudly for a strict enforcement of these nepotism rules, in this case against Donald Trump’s family members, might want to be careful what they wish for.

Be careful what you wish for

Enforcing these laws – that remain on the books – may backfire badly.

In Trump’s case, given his mercurial personality, enforcing these laws may do more harm than good. Without his children and son-in-law, the country may find that Mr. Trump acts in an even more isolated and erratic fashion without them close by.

After all, not only do they know him well. They are also the most effective restraint mechanism that anybody could ever hope to put onto Donald Trump.

Moreover, even people who have no faith whatsoever in anything Trump does acknowledge that his children (especially Ivanka) and his in-law Jared are very bright indeed. They do see the larger picture, where The Donald only sees (and picks) the next fight.

To give a specific recent example, the already very turbulent picture of U.S.-Mexico relations — featuring policymaking by impulsive Presidential tweeting — might be even worse without Jared Kushner. To limit both damage and fallout, he is hovering as the unofficial backchannel with the Mexicans to reach the president and urge moderation.

The stark fact is that the Trump campaign for the presidency was such an outsider operation and such a longshot when it began (and even arguably until the day it won) that many of the people entering the White House are new to him and each other.

Any steady hands around him?

His staff – some of whom only joined the campaign very late or were not even present until after the election – and his cabinet members are broadly speaking not close associates with the new president. Worse, few of them have ever worked together.

That is very different from other “outsider” Presidents, whether Jimmy Carter or, to an extent, even Bill Clinton. They always arrive in Washington with a sizable retinue of confidantes from their home state or region – people they have been close to often for decades.

Those people, though they may have been strangers to Washington, were at least very familiar with one another – and have confidence in one another. That is not the case with Trump’s hastily assembled retinue, as the endless backbiting leaks to the press have made clear.

Trump’s Bobby Kennedy quartet

The president’s two older sons, elder daughter and son-in-law Jared Kushner may prove to be the constants in his life as he churns rapidly through White House staff and appointees. They may become what little stability there is to his administration.

The Trump family members, at their best, are moderating influences. But nobody should get carried away. Predictions that Kushner et al. will somehow secure peace in Israel and Palestine, an issue where so many experienced hands have failed before, stretches plausibility.


US anti-nepotism laws might keep away the only people who can manage Trump in the Oval Office.

If Trump’s children (or son-in-law Kushner) are kept out of the White House, he may be unrestrained.

Trump trying to bring on family as a real adviser is not like Fillon paying his wife for nothing.