Jared Kushner Breaks History
Why does "Breaking History," the memoir by Trump's son-in-law, exist?
Breaking History is such an apt and unironic title for Jared Kushner’s memoir that I keep glancing at the Amazon tab on my screen, to make sure it’s real. Because, like, “breaking history” is exactly what Donald Trump’s former senior advisor and son-in-law does in his book. He doesn’t exactly lie. Rather, he takes events, breaks them down into component parts, and only shows us the pieces he wants us to see—which is to say, the ones that portray Jared Kushner as he regards himself: as the hero of his own story, and of America’s.
He waits oh-so patiently, until the book’s sixth and seventh paragraphs, to rattle off his signature White House achievements. Paramount among them, he asserts, are the peace treaties between Israel and seven predominantly Muslim nations, none of which are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, or Palestine. “The Abraham Accords,” he writes, referring to that collection of treaties, “were a true turning point in history. If nurtured, they have the potential to bring about the complete end of the Arab-Israeli conflict that has existed ever since the founding of the State of Israel, seventy-five years ago.” The complete end? Really? I’m no expert in the geopolitics of the region, but it seems like a plan to resolve the “Arab-Israeli conflict” should probably include, you know, Palestinians.
Again: he makes this ludicrous claim on the second page of the book. But worse even than the risible assertion is the condescending tone. What he’s really saying is that he, Jared Kushner, will bring peace to the Middle East—an everlasting Pax Kushnera!—if his Democratic successors in the West Wing don’t fuck it up, which they probably will, so if there’s any further violence in the region, it’s all their fault.
Good memoirs are not just chronicles of what happened when, but vehicles for unflinching self-reflection. To be worthwhile, memoirists need to be able to examine themselves critically, even ruthlessly. It’s not just admitting, “I fucked up.” It’s saying, “This is how and why I fucked up, and this is what I learned from fucking up.” Ultimately, Breaking History fails because Jared Kushner is not capable of self-reflection. He may as well be a vampire staring into the mirror: there’s nothing there.
To take an early example, here is how Kushner introduces his life as an undergraduate at one of the most prestigious universities in the world:
In 1999 I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted into Harvard. Like most students on campus I was initially nervous about how I would perform against the world’s top students, but I quickly learned that while many kids had high IQs, some didn’t work hard or have common sense.
See, this is a perfect opportunity to look inward. After all, Kushner was a mediocre high school student, got ho-hum SAT scores, and was only admitted to Harvard after his father, the wealthy real estate magnate Charles Kushner, donated a few million clams to the university’s endowment fund. I’d be mortified, if the only reason I got into a fancy school is because my old man wrote a check. Not only that, I’d feel guilty that I was taking the place of a more deserving student.
If he feels that way, Kushner doesn’t say so. He gives us next to nothing. While there is some vague intimation that he doesn’t regard himself as one of “the world’s top students,” he “quickly” assures his readers that he’s better than the lot of them, because, unlike “some” Harvard students—the legacies, presumably, and not the ones who buy their way in—he works hard and has common sense. Any nervousness comes from apprehension that his classmates might not immediately recognize his—how did Nikki Haley put it?—hidden genius. There is never any doubt in his mind that he is 1) right, and 2) better.
He squanders another opportunity at self-reflection when describing his father’s indictment, conviction, and incarceration. While he never explicitly says so, he seems to blame his uncles and his nemesis Chris Christie for his old man’s crimes:
The focus of Christie’s investigation was a private family feud that had boiled over into public view as my father battled with his brother Murray and brother-in-law Billy, who were attempting to dismantle his control of the company he had spent his life building. . .
It was an astonishing betrayal. In building his business into a billion-dollar enterprise, my father had made his siblings fabulously wealthy. The lawsuit and investigation had placed a heavy burden on him, and he reacted in anger. Billy’s infidelity was an open secret around the office, and to show his sister Esther what kind of man she had married, my father hired a prostitute who seduced Billy. He had their resulting tryst recorded and sent the tape to Esther, who turned it over to the Feds. Unbeknownst to my father, Esther was cooperating as a witness in their investigation. My father was arrested and charged with witness tampering and violating the Mann Act, a century-old statute against transporting a prostitute across state lines.
The anger, you’ll observe, is not directed at the author of the crimes—the guy who enlisted a sex worker to entrap his own brother-in-law. We can almost feel Jared’s eyes roll when he cites the specific law Charles Kushner ran afoul of. I mean, it’s a hundred years old, guys! And, like, chauffeuring a hooker across the GWB? For real? Dad’s going up the river for that? Can you believe that shit? The indignant tone reminds me of that chapter in American Psycho, when Patrick Bateman is incredulous that the cops would bust him for killing a saxophone player.
So, yeah, Kushner is not digging deep in this book. He’s more interested in un-hiding his hidden genius, so we can all bask in the glow of his amazingness. This rattling off of his presumed achievements, once again in paragraph #6, feels positively Trump-like:
Across four years, I helped renegotiate the largest trade deal in history, pass bipartisan criminal justice reform, and launch Operation Warp Speed to deliver a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time.
And already we’re into the gaslighting. Not to quibble, but Jared Kushner was the author of the Blue State Genocide. He intentionally shut down the pandemic response plan put together by his own team of trusted confidants, because he calculated that spikes in coronavirus deaths in New York, New Jersey, and California, all states with Democratic governors who could be blamed, would help his father-in-law win re-election. He and Ivanka lived in New York, his parents live in New Jersey where he grew up, and his brother is out in California. He was willing to risk the lives of his loved ones to serve Trump. As it stands, a million Americans died because of his sabotage of the pandemic response. It doesn’t get more ghoulish than that.
After taking his undeserved bow, the very next sentence is this:
Humbled by the complexity of the task, I orchestrated some of the most significant breakthroughs in diplomacy in the last fifty years.
Nothing has ever humbled this guy. He operates quietly, yes, especially in contrast to his father-in-law and boss, but humility is not his jam. And in actuality, the only diplomatic “breakthroughs” orchestrated by Jared Kushner involved foreign governments that could help him with his family business’s money problems. His cozy relationship with Mohammad bin Salmon (MbS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has never been fully accounted for by investigators, whether reporters or law enforcement. This is from a piece I posted on Medium almost four full years ago:
Saudi Arabia was the first state visit Trump made as president, a trip organized and pushed for by Kushner, who is chummy with MbS and has acted as the de facto ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was not banned from Saudi media for his criticisms of MbS, but rather for his criticisms of Donald Trump. More importantly, U.S. intelligence knew of a plan to lure Khashoggi back to arrest him, so the president and the de facto ambassador to Saudi Arabia must have also known. If they knew and did not share the information with Khashoggi, they are liable. Per the Washington Post:
Intelligence agencies have a ‘duty to warn’ people who might be kidnapped, seriously injured or killed, according to a directive signed in 2015. The obligation applies regardless of whether the person is a U.S. citizen. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident.
Why exactly are Trump and Kushner going to the mat for MbS? Is it to advance U.S. interests—or their own?
Last October, Jared Kushner paid an unannounced visit to Riyadh, where it’s reported that he stayed up until the wee hours talking “strategy” with the crown prince, apparently his new BFF. He allegedly gave MbS an “enemies list” culled from the classified president’s daily brief, which MbS seems to have used the following month to purge disloyal relatives from government and take their money. Also last October, Kushner’s company received a $57 million loan from Fortress Investment Group, which was recently purchased by SoftFund, a Saudi investment concern, to bail out its troubled property at One Journal Square in Jersey City. (A larger and more widely-reported loan, to bail out the troubled property at 666 Fifth Avenue, came the following summer, via Qatar.)
He was also, during the campaign, present at the infamous Trump Tower meeting. He met with Sergei Gorkov of the sanctioned VEB, and proposed a backchannel via the Russian embassy, so Trump and Putin could communicate privately. This is all after he lied, twice, on his SF-86 form.
For reasons that remain unclear to me, all of that malfeasance remains shrouded in secrecy. And Kushner keeps it that way. In his laundry list of accomplishments, he alludes to the rift between the Kingdom and the Qataris without mentioning the ulterior motive of his involvement:
And Saudi Arabia and other members of the the Gulf Cooperation Council resolved a bitter diplomatic and economic rift with Qatar. . .
Instead, Kushner wants us to be as impressed as he is with his own acumen. He also wants us to know that he has a lot of friends. One friend, he claims, is [checks notes] NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (say it ain’t so, Adam!). A second is a big-time real estate developer, jury selection for whose trial began yesterday:
At one point I flew to California to meet with Tom Barrack, a real estate giant whose firm was one of our creditors. I expected him to be hostile and jockeying for the kill, but after our meeting, he became an ally.
Reading the section of the book that is available for free on Amazon—no way I was buying this clunker—I found myself wondering why Breaking History exists. Why did Kushner feel the need to write a memoir?
“As my time in government was coming to an end,” he tells us, “several friends encouraged me to record my memories while they were still fresh.” Allowing for the fact that Jared has friends, and that at least three of them were twisting his arm for a memoir, the fact of the matter is that writing a book is a lot of work. While Kushner does not strike me as lazy, the question remains: Why did he do it? Why does this book exist at all?
While there’s no doubt he came out ahead on the endeavor—he collected his advance, and the royalties on all those bulk sales—he certainly doesn’t need the money. Kushner and his wife banked nine figures during his four years working at the White House. Per a financial analysis by CREW, they made between between $172 million and $640 million in outside income (which is approximately $172-640 million more than Hunter Biden has made the last two years, but that’s another story). After departing Washington for Florida last year, Kushner started up a “global” investment company, Affinity Partners, with a $2 billion investment from the Saudis. If anything, writing the book was a distraction from his new business. So, like, why bother?
Years ago, I called Kushner the J.D. Salinger of the Trump Administration. He was publicity shy, almost reclusive. Why the big media blitz now? He did seem to enjoy—insofar as he is capable of experiencing enjoyment—basking in the glow of the attention, blissfully unaware that his “best-seller” status is, like his admission to Harvard and his seed capital from the Saudis, the product of powerful benefactors putting their fat thumbs on the scale, and not of his talent, charm, hard work, common sense, or, lord knows, flair for language.
Is he trying to rehabilitate his image? Is he trying to distance himself from his father-in-law, who is even more of a criminal than his felon father? Does he really think of himself as some great historical figure, and wants to leave a memoir for posterity, like he’s Ulysses Fucking Grant? Did he notice that three of the best writers of the twentieth century—Graham Greene, John Le Carre, and Ian Fleming—also started off working for their government in shadowy ways, and he wanted to follow in their footsteps? Or was this for Ivanka, to burnish her credentials somehow, for a future Senate run? Honestly, I have no idea.
I will say one positive thing about Breaking History. Judging by both the insipidity of the prose—the thing reads like a term paper by some artless MBA grad student; an exercise in business school blandness—and the breathtaking lack of self-awareness in the description of events, I suspect that Kushner really did write the book himself. Ghostwriters aren’t this awful.