Book review: Breaking History: A White House Memoir by Jared Kushner


All notes are self-serving – it’s just a matter of degree. But Jared Kushner’s memoir, “Breaking History,” is essentially an extended newscast that exists to exonerate its author after his role in one of the most devastating presidential administrations of my life. Any reader who tends to search over 450 pages of boring and often repetitive claims will get a very good idea of ​​what Kushner really looks like—what he looks like, how he views his interactions with others and what his values ​​are. be.

I know this because I worked with him in 2011 and 2012, when I was the editor-in-chief of the New York Observer, a reputable newspaper that Kushner bought in 2006 at the age of 25. At the time, ostensibly a Democrat, 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 deprived the Comptroller of funding and ran it largely as a vanity project until he scrapped it shortly after his father-in-law was elected president. In March 2017, Kushner was appointed in charge of a new office in the White House tasked with reforming the federal bureaucracy. I hesitated to write about my previous work with him for fear of looking unprofessional, but I was very concerned that someone with limited Kushner experience running a family business real estate business – a job he inherited – now had a huge portfolio within government with real. Consequences for many people.

The memoirs mostly cover Kushner’s time next door to Trump, starting with the end of the presidential campaign and moving through the next four years. It claims to give readers an inside look at what it was like to be a senior White House adviser with extraordinary access to the president. Of course, Kushner ignores the fact that this unusual access was essentially the inevitable result of his marriage to the president’s daughter. In describing his work for the nation—the many roles he combined and then relinquished—he pretends to be imbued with a special understanding of Beltway terminology, whereby a particular bureaucratic competence is referred to as a “file.” By Kushner’s account, everyone wants to keep giving him more files because, like his father-in-law, he’s the only one who can pounce on the problem and solve it. (My 7-year-old son, a huge Marvel fan, recently asked me what the worst hypothetical superhero looks like, and I now have an answer.)

But what Kushner’s book really is is a portrait of a man whose moral compass has been demagnetized. When Kushner met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the men discussed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Kushner accepted Muhammad’s deviation, and dispensed with the topic in a single paragraph. “The crown prince has taken responsibility for the fact that this happened on his watch, although he said he was not personally involved,” Kushner wrote. The CIA came to a different conclusion in its February 2021 report, saying: “We estimate that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Kushner emerges as an overconfident revolutionary who dispenses ill-considered advice to professionals with far more wisdom and experience than he would ever have. Kushner’s savior’s narrative is backed up by great quotes from a handful of colleagues and his father-in-law. Sample provided by Mike Pompeo: “I wish I had someone like you on every file.” It would not occur to Kushner that this flattery is a strategic political tactic by sycophants. When Trump, speaking in the Oval Office, says, “Jared is a genius,” Kushner takes it as a nice joke. But when others suggest the White House would collapse without him, Kushner willingly believes so.

I knew Kushner as an Olympic-level social climber, and he carried his memoirs with famous names, however distant his acquaintances were: Bono, Billy Joel, Kim Kardashian. He is often unaware of the implications of dropping his name. “When I heard the reaction of the crowd that night in Springfield,” he wrote of a Trump rally, “it reminded me of a book Rupert Murdoch gave me months ago: Charles Murray.” Kushner ignores the importance 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 stressing his relationship with Murdoch.

The memoir begins with Kushner’s experience in his father’s prison. In 2004, Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to witnessing fraud, tax evasion, and making false statements before the Federal Election Commission. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Chris Christie, who later served as the governor of New Jersey, was at the time the US attorney who prosecuted the elder Kushner. Jared Kushner refers to his father’s wrongdoing as a “private family feud,” which also happened to include some vile behavior that includes a video of Jared’s uncle sleeping with a sex worker It was hired by Jared’s father – who sent the sensational recording to Jared’s aunt. While discussing the ordeal, Kushner says he was angry with his family, his father, his father’s lawyer and another person: “I was angry with Chris Christie, who knew my father was a major supporter of his Democratic rivals in New Jersey.”

It is easy for Kushner to blame others for the problems he or the White House has caused. He criticizes Steve Bannon for the negative reaction to Trump’s executive order to bar people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, a move known as the “Muslim ban.” In Kushner’s view, the ensuing uproar erupted because “the facts were lost in the chaos that emerged from Bannon’s failed proposition.” Another Kushner target: Rex Tillerson, who he says is responsible for exacerbating chaos in the Middle East. Kushner writes, “While Tillerson entered the administration with high expectations, his term was a failure by any measure.” Alex Azar is responsible for pandemic slips; “I was angry that the secretary didn’t do more to prevent [ventilator] shortage.” More importantly, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff at one time, is repeatedly held responsible for everything that goes wrong, not because Kelly has obvious and well-documented flaws, but primarily because he kept Jared out of meetings. The memoir is a burning book of sorts, filled with petty grievances and struggles that could have been easily avoided with less ego and more maturity.

While Kushner insists he doesn’t need the credit, he takes credit for the hard work that others have done. The Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries — arguably his biggest achievement — are presented in fine detail, and Kushner mentions how much Israel and the United States credited him with sealing the deal. He recalls then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tribute to the dedication of the Kushner Peace Park: “It is fitting that we choose to honor Jared Kushner in this way… We will ensure that future generations know what your contribution is.” But Kushner’s assertiveness overshadows the importance of Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, who was instrumental in removing obstacles to the Ibrahim agreements.

Nor is Kushner shy about reminding readers of Kushner’s courtyard at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. He tells us on the plaque, “Dedicated in honor of Jared Kushner and inspired by his tireless pursuit of peace.” In a similar take on credit, Kushner gave a modicum of ink to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill. Grassley’s work on the issue came long before Kushner took office.

The best memoir invites the reader to understand the author’s experience in all its complexity and depth. This requires weakness on the part of the writer and a willingness to admit fears and instances of shameful behaviour. It means wrestling with what you do not know and cannot understand, as well as the contradictions in yourself and others. Above all, it means to be honest.

I’m not sure Kushner is capable of doing any of these things, least of all. He’s the only boss who ever asked me to lie on his behalf, and when I refused, he was really confused. He was used to yes men, and failure to say yes was disobedience.

If he was a different person, he would have written insightful memoirs, memoirs that would serve the audience. But if he had been a different person, his time in the White House would have been very different, too. His relationship with his father is complex and formative, in a way that somewhat mirrors Trump’s relationship with his father. This alone is material for honest and wonderful memoirs.

When I was still at the Observer, the New York Times published a sprawling profile on Jared and Ivanka’s style. The piece made reference to Charles Kushner’s imprisonment and the fact that his son, as a teen, had traveled to a federal prison in Montgomery, Ala., to see him every weekend—something I thought made Jared seem more sympathetic and humane. I expected him to be pissed off having those details in the story, and he was. He called the reporter and yelled at him. At about that time, I had a conversation with a relative of Kushner and said I knew it was hard for the family to remember Charles Kushner’s imprisonment, even though it was a necessary part of the story. I have expressed my sympathy. I could understand that because my late younger brother had been incarcerated on and off for a decade. I knew how devastating it was for my father. My brother was a veteran with severe mental illness and was accidentally treated by a psychiatrist at the same Montgomery military facility where Charles Kushner was imprisoned.

“Well, I feel bad for your family,” Kushner’s relative told me. “Your brother was a psychopath. Our family’s pain is often self-made.” These, in short, are the memoirs that Kushner could have written.

On the last page, Kushner notes what his time in Washington taught him: “I learned to walk 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 every one of these claims. His memoirs are a series of small battles, the constant disposal of enemies and a series of self-chatter.

Elizabeth Spiers is a progressive digital writer and strategist.

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