Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t even begun, but the daily outrage we need to muster has already become tedious and exhausting. That’s by design. This week, Trump will try and cram through several controversial cabinet appointments, hold a press conference, and no doubt stir up some fake controversy on Twitter to distract us all. It’s a lot, and by creating a mass of chaos, the Trump Administration is hoping that we won’t be able to latch on to any one topic long enough to sink our teeth in. This is how he ran his election campaign. It’s proven very effective.
It’s important, however, to pick and choose our outrage battles. I had hoped that the Jeff Sessions confirmation would be a battle the public really dug into, but with his confirmation all but certain, it seems futile, barring any revelations during his confirmation hearings (and any such revelations are likely to be overshadowed by whatever happens this afternoon).
Stephen Bannon is very good at manipulating the news cycle.
But this Jared Kushner business? It’s important. Kushner has been named a senior advisor to the White House. Kushner is going to have the President’s ear, and maybe this doesn’t sound so bad. He’s an Orthodox Jew, he used be a big supporter of Democrats, including Cory Booker, and he owns (for a while longer, anyway) the New York Observer. Maybe the 35-year-old guy can talk some sense into Trump.
That is unlikely, and as several think pieces have pointed out, Kushner suffers from the same inferiority complex that plagues Trump: He’s an outcast among the very people he’s been trying to fit in with all his life. He’s got some scores to settle.
More importantly, his appointment is against the law. There is a 1967 anti-nepotism statute that specifically says that the President cannot hire relatives, including a son-in-law (as specifically stated in the statute). The statute was enacted in response to JFK’s decision to hire his brother as Attorney General, but there are good reasons for it, beyond politics. Being a relative — and here, a close confidante — of Trump gives Kushner more power, it means that other senior members of the White House are less likely to stand up to him, and it undermines public confidence if a President chooses a family member over, say, the most qualified person for the job (Kushner is 35 years old and has no governing experience).
Beyond that, specific to Kushner, there’s another morass of conflicts involving his business interests, further complicated by the fact that Kuschner was out trying to make a deal with a shadowy Chinese business organization the day after Trump was elected.
In my mind, however, all of that pales next to this one fact: It will be Trump’s first major attempt to violate the law as President-elect (there are several other issues on the horizon that may also violate the law, but this one is first in line). If we let this one slide — if hiring relatives to senior positions in the White House becomes the New Normal — then it’s going to be much easier to let the next one slide. This is the precipice of the slippery slope. This is the public’s first real test.
In 2009, Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for Health and Human Services Secretary over some unpaid taxes (which he subsequently paid back). Timothy Geithner was nearly dinged as Treasury Secretary over a TurboTax error. In 1993, two of Bill Clinton’s choices for Attorney General withdrew for hiring undocumented workers as nannies. Those were minor offenses.
Kushner’s appointment breaks the law. If we let it go without some modicum of outrage, without some blowback, without some public outrage, it will embolden Donald Trump to continue running roughshod over not only norms, but the Constitution itself.
Call your Representatives. Write some letters. Hold someone accountable. Hell, tweet at your representatives. Just do something.