Perhaps no figure embodies the bizarre state of US politics better than Jared Kushner.
With Trump’s victory in November, the bland and unremarkable 36-year-old real estate tycoon went from being a virtual nobody — the husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and, like Trump himself, the pampered heir to his father’s business empire — to a key powerbroker in the new administration.
In his new role as senior adviser, Kushner has influence over some of the most significant areas of world politics — tasks normally reserved for people who spent their careers on them — from US policy in the Middle East to solving the US opioid epidemic to restructuring the American executive state.
But more important than the “experience” question, Kushner is a shining example of the web of hypocrisy, contradiction and intrigue surrounding Trump himself and his promises to rejuvenate American capitalism.
Despite Kushner’s frequent portrayal in the media as a soft-spoken, moderating influence among his father-in-law’s advisers, the more you investigate Kushner, the more a shady and Trumpian character emerges.
In May, Kushner became the latest member of Trump’s inner circle to be implicated in backroom dealings with Russia. Federal and congressional investigators announced that they were looking into Kushner’s meeting in mid-December with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker whose financial institution has ties to Russian intelligence under Vladimir Putin and is under sanction from the US
As the investigation into the Trump campaign’s suspected dealings with Russia continues, the Democrats have kept a narrow focus on these allegations, to the exclusion of Trump’s other crimes. But as inadequate as the Democrats’ “opposition” has been, it’s also easy to see why Trump and Co. could be suspected of corruption.
And Jared Kushner is a great example of how the Trump family business is corruption.
As a landlord, Kushner has a history of harassing low-income tenants and evicting them from his properties. As the owner of the New York Observer, he used the newspaper as a platform to pursue personal vendettas against his rivals.
Kushner also has a history of partnerships with corrupt foreign businessmen and officials that is particularly hypocritical for somebody serving a president who flaunts “buy American and hire American” policies and who rode to power on a wave of nationalistic fervor by employing rhetorical attacks against Muslims, Mexicans and China.
There are Kushner’s business deals with an Israeli bank under criminal investigation by the Justice Department, and with Chinese business officials linked to the country’s ruling elite.
And now there’s his meeting with a Russian banker in the months before Trump’s inauguration — in an apparent attempt to create “back channel” communications with Moscow, away from the prying eyes of US intelligence officials.
As head of Kushner Companies, Kushner obtained millions of dollars through a US government visa program that allows foreign investors to buy their way to permanent residency in the US The program’s extension was part of Trump’s first major piece of legislation.
The program, called the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, was introduced in the early 1990s and is a favorite of real estate tycoons like Trump and Kushner, allowing them to attract wealthy foreigners to bankroll luxury building projects at extremely low interest rates.
Because EB-5 recipients must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to $1 million toward a US business venture, the program is officially billed as a way to attract foreign capital to the US and create jobs. But the actual requirements for job creation on an EB-5 project are extremely low — only 10 permanent jobs need to be created.
As a result, the primarily beneficiaries of the program aren’t US workers, but developers like Kushner and wealthy investors in China and elsewhere.
Could there be a starker refutation of Trump’s con?
While hundreds of poor and desperate migrants die every year attempting to cross the US border, while the rest are vilified by xenophobes like Trump and scapegoated for the failures of US capitalism, the president and his closest associates are busy extending a program from which they have personally gained — one under which thousands of foreign millionaires are granted residency visas every year with little controversy, including nearly 3,000 from January to March of this year alone.
For comparison, this is almost the same number of visas that were issued over a three-year period, from January 2008 through June 2011, for unskilled workers who fall under the EB-3 visa for foreign workers. This is the only type of visa open to working-class foreigners who are not related to a US citizen and who can’t apply for some other type of special visa status.
Unlike the EB-5 program, in which foreign investors apply for residency directly, workers aren’t allowed to file their own paperwork to obtain an EB-3. Instead, they must be sponsored by an employer, which must obtain a “foreign labor certification” from the Department of Labor, a complex process that can take months.
In order to be approved, the employer must demonstrate that that no domestic worker can be found to perform the job in question, and even if certification is granted, the employer must still file separate paperwork with US Citizenship and Immigration Services and fork over a $700 filing fee. Even then, there is a good chance the visa won’t be approved.
The difference between these visa programs is a perfect illustration of the reality of the US immigration system, where the vast majority of the world’s population is essentially blocked from ever obtaining any form of legal residency in the US, while for the rich it is virtually guaranteed.
And it exposes the hypocrisy of con men like Trump and Kushner who use scapegoating rhetoric about “immigrants taking away American jobs” and immigration laws being too lenient, yet manipulate the system to strike overseas business deals and exploit current immigration laws for their own gain.