Americans like to believe their experiment in democracy is a global trend-setter. If there’s one particular sin they love to point out, it’s that of nepotism. Look at all these terrible dictators appointing their relatives to high positions, they say in tones of righteous indignation. Why can’t they be more like us, democratic, fair-minded, egalitarian, fair and just?
No powerful global leader, however, is guiltier of the sin of nepotism than Donald Trump. He seems to think his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, qualifies as a top adviser on just about everything simply because he’s married to his daughter Ivanka, creator of a brand of women’s high fashion and also a presidential “adviser.” Then there’s Donald Jr., in the headlines, at the top of the TV news, morning, noon and night, for his secret talks with some Russian lawyer who was supposed to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton long before last November’s presidential election.
Those are just the two most obvious examples of beneficiaries of Trump family nepotism. Of course, there are many others. The cascading reports have had a terrible effect on Trump’s presidency. Not only is he immensely unpopular, he’s also unable to ram through important legislation on which he campaigned and has staked his presidency. Some of this legislation, such as his attempt to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare, a national medical insurance program that would leave more Americans than ever without access to proper care, is terrible. Perhaps it’s just as well he’s not able to do what he wants.
Here, however, is a way out of the mess that he doesn’t seem to have considered. Why doesn’t he just get rid of Kushner, kick him out of the White House, tell him to go run a hotel or casino or something but get his hands off of government? And, for that matter, how about calling Donald Jr. what he is, a spoiled rich kid who has no business talking to anybody about anything that has to do with any aspect of politics or policy. Why does Daddy have to say what a good boy he is. How about scolding him for talking to some visiting Russians and telling him, keep your hands off?
Unfortunately, Trump, the president, is not at all inclined to get rid of his favored family members. He persists in defending them and whatever they do without realizing how he’s demeaning the office of the presidency.
There may, however, be an upside to the drip-drip of scandals pertaining to the nepotism of Donald Trump. That is, at least the domestic media is on the case. The U.S. networks have been reporting minute by minute on revelations of who was in the room with Donald Jr. when he met the female lawyer from Moscow. The New York Times, besides having revealed the meeting in the first place, floods its editorial and op-ed pages with non-stop commentaries attacking Trump. The Washington Post is competing with the Times for who can say the most, who can reveal the worst, who can come up with new ways to pillory and undermine the president.
Can one imagine such unremitting attacks on the leaders of other countries mired in nepotism with overtones of corruption? Could it be that the United States is still setting an example for freedom of the press? Or is the nepotism of the Trump administration a huge weight on the democratic process? And will Trump, defying demands to reform his government and fire his family members, manage to set a precedent that will significantly compromise the ability of the United States to respond effectively to crises abroad?
The Trump presidency faces an uncertain future in which the media and opposition politicians, as well as members of his own party, are attempting to destroy him before he can do much of anything. The attacks on Trump risk severely weakening U.S. foreign policy. How, for instance, can the United States deal with North Korean threats while Trump has to place priority on defending himself? Or, conversely, might Trump overreact to foreign threats in order to divert attention from problems at home?
The problem is Trump doesn’t get it. His first act, in order to extricate himself from the immediate dilemma, should be to dam the stream of outrage by saying, sorry, got it, nepotism is not a good idea, and I’m going to stop it. Of course, that’s not going to happen. For the rest of his presidency, which still has three and a half years to run, we’re going to have to endure weird tales of favoritism of his family members.
Might the Trump royal family survive unscathed while the United States descends deeper into the tradition of nepotism? It’s a good sign that the American media is pointing the finger at him and his family rather than at all those foreign dictatorships that are so often the target of easy criticism.
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.