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Review of Breaking History: A White House Memoir by Jared Kushner

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All memories are interested – it’s just a matter of degree. But Jared Kushner’s memoir, “Breaking History,” is, at its core, an expansive press release that exists primarily to exculpate its author after his role in one of the most destructive presidential administrations of my lifetime. However, any reader inclined to sift through the more than 450 pages of often tedious and repetitive claims will have a pretty good idea of ​​what Kushner really is – what he looks like, how he views his interactions with others, and what his values ​​are. are.

I know this because I worked for him in 2011 and 2012, when I was editor of the New York Observer, a prestigious newspaper that Kushner bought in 2006 when he was 25. At the time, he was ostensibly a Democrat, and Donald Trump was pretending to fire people on national television. Early in the Trump administration, I wrote in the Washington Post about my time working for Kushner, who starved the Observer of funding and ran it largely as a vanity project until which he folds it shortly after his father-in-law is elected president. In March 2017, Kushner was put in charge of a new White House office tasked with overhauling the federal bureaucracy. I hesitated to write about my previous work with him for fear of sounding unprofessional, but I was deeply concerned that someone with Kushner’s limited experience running a family-owned commercial real estate company – a job he inherited – now had a huge government portfolio with real consequences for many people.

The memoir mostly covers Kushner’s time next to Trump, beginning with the end of the presidential campaign and moving through the next four years. It claims to give readers an inside view of what it was like to be a senior White House adviser with unusual access to the president. Kushner, of course, conveniently sidesteps the fact that this unusual outburst was primarily the inevitable result of his marriage to the president’s daughter. In describing his work for the nation – the many roles he accrued and then abandoned – he claims to be imbued with a particular understanding of Beltway lingo, where a particular bureaucrat’s skill is called a “record”. In Kushner’s story, everyone wants to keep giving him more files because, like his stepfather, he’s the only person who can step in and fix a problem. (My 7-year-old son, a huge Marvel fan, recently asked me what a hypothetical worst superhero would look like, and now I have an answer.)

What Kushner’s book is really about, however, is a portrait of a man whose moral compass has been degaussed. When Kushner met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the men discussed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Kushner has accepted Mohammed’s deviation, and he goes off topic in a single paragraph. “The Crown Prince took responsibility for the fact that this happened on his watch,” writes Kushner, “although he said he was not personally involved.” The CIA came to a different conclusion in a February 2021 report, stating, “We believe that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Kushner comes across as an overconfident tyro who patronizes ill-informed advice to professionals with far more wisdom and expertise than he will ever have. Kushner’s tale as a savior is backed up with flattering quotes from a handful of colleagues and his father-in-law. An example, courtesy of Mike Pompeo: “I wish I had someone like you on every file.” It does not occur to Kushner that this flattery is a strategic political policy on the part of the flatterers. When Trump, speaking in the Oval Office, says, “Jared is a genius,” Kushner accepts it as an affectionate joke. But when others suggest the White House would crumble without him, Kushner readily believes it.

I knew Kushner as an Olympic-level social climber, and he larded his memoir with famous names, however distant: Bono, Billy Joel, Kim Kardashian. He is often unaware of the implications of his name dropping. “When I heard the crowd reaction that night in Springfield,” he wrote of a Trump rally, “it reminded me of a book Rupert Murdoch had given me months earlier: Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart.'” Kushner is oblivious to the significance of endorsing Murray, co-author of ‘The Bell Curve’ (1994), who asserted controversial views on race and intelligence that have since been discredited. But Kushner fully understands the status implications of emphasizing his relationship with Murdoch.

The memoir opens with Kushner’s experience of his father’s incarceration. In 2004, Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to witness tampering, tax evasion, and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Chris Christie, who would later become governor of New Jersey, was the US attorney at the time who sued the elder Kushner. Jared Kushner calls his father’s misdeeds a “private family feud,” which included sordid antics involving a video of Jared’s uncle sleeping with a sex worker. hired by Jared’s father – who had the juicy recording sent to Jared’s aunt. Speaking about the ordeal, Kushner says he was angry with his family, his father, his father’s lawyers and one other person: “I was angry with Chris Christie, who knew that my father had been an important support from his Democratic rivals in New Jersey.”

Kushner has a facility for blaming others for problems he or the White House have caused. He lambastes Steve Bannon for the backlash to Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, a move known as the “Muslim ban.” In Kushner’s view, the ensuing brouhaha erupted because “the facts got lost in the chaos that arose from Bannon’s botched deployment.” Another target of Kushner: Rex Tillerson, whom he believes is responsible for worsening disorder in the Middle East. “While Tillerson had entered the administration with exorbitant expectations,” writes Kushner, “his tenure was a failure by any measure.” Alex Azar Is Responsible for Pandemic Missteps; “I was livid that the secretary had not done more to prevent the [ventilator] shortage.” More importantly, former White House chief of staff John Kelly is repeatedly blamed for nearly everything that goes wrong, not because Kelly has obvious, well-documented flaws, but mostly because he kept Jared out of meetings.The memoir is a kind of burnt book, heavily populated with petty grievances and conflicts that could have easily been avoided with less ego and more maturity.

While insisting he doesn’t need the credit, Kushner takes credit for the hard work of others. The Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries – arguably his greatest achievement – ​​are presented in detail, and Kushner recounts how Israel and the United States credit him with achieving the agreement . He recalls a tribute given by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the inauguration of a Kushner Peace Garden: “It is fitting that we choose to honor Jared Kushner in this way. … We will ensure that future generations will know what your contribution has been. .” But Kushner’s focus on himself obscures the importance of Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, who was instrumental in removing obstacles to the Abraham Accords.

Kushner is also quick to remind readers of a Kushner courtship at the American Embassy in Jerusalem. A plaque, we know, reads, “Dedicated in honor of Jared Kushner and inspired by his tireless pursuit of peace.” In a similar take on credit, Kushner gives only a small amount of ink to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) role in the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill. Grassley’s work on the issue long predates Kushner’s tenure in the White House.

The best memoirs invite the reader to understand the author’s experience in all its complexity and depth. It requires vulnerability on the part of the writer and a willingness to admit fear and examples of shameful behavior. It means fighting against what you do not know and cannot understand, as well as against the contradictions in yourself and in others. Above all, it means being honest.

I’m not sure Kushner is capable of any of these things, let alone the last. He’s the only boss I’ve ever had who asked me to lie on his behalf, and when I refused, he was really confused. He was used to yes-men, and not saying yes was considered insubordination.

If he was a different person, he could have written an insightful memoir that would serve the public. But if he was a different person, his time in the White House would also have been very different. His relationship with his father is complex and formative, in a way that somewhat mirrors Trump’s relationship with his own father. That alone is material for an honest and fascinating memoir.

When I was still at the Observer, the New York Times ran a sprawling Style section profile of Jared and Ivanka. The article noted the incarceration of Charles Kushner and the fact that his teenage son had flown to a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, to see him every weekend – something that, in my opinion, made Jared more sympathetic and human. I expected him to be angry that this detail was in the story, and he was. He called the reporter and yelled at him. At that time, I had a conversation with a relative of Kushner and said that I knew it must be difficult for the family to remember Charles Kushner’s incarceration, even though it was a part necessary for the story. I expressed my sympathy. I could understand because my late younger brother was incarcerated on and off for a decade. I knew how devastating it was for my parents. My brother was a veteran with severe mental illness and was coincidentally treated by a psychiatrist at the same military facility in Montgomery where Charles Kushner was incarcerated.

“Well, I feel bad for your family,” Kushner’s relative told me. “Your brother was mentally ill. Our family’s pain is often self-inflicted. This, in a nutshell, is the memoir Kushner could have written.

On the last page, Kushner shares what his time in Washington taught him: “I learned to stay away from petty fights and power struggles to make fewer enemies and more friends, to talk less and do more.” The problem is that the book contradicts each of these claims. His memoirs are a litany of small fights, constant elimination of enemies, and a cascade of self-aggrandizing chatter.

Elizabeth Spiers is a progressive digital strategist and writer.