Pale Horse: Acting President Jared Kushner, Bringer of Death

207,000 Americans are dead of covid-19. Seven and a half million Americans have contracted it, including the President & the former Governor of NJ. This outcome was avoidable. Boy Plunder is to blame.

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

— Revelation 6:7–8

ON SATURDAY, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who was part of the President’s debate prep team, announced that he had tested positive for covid-19. Later that day, he was taken to the Morristown Medical Center as “an important precautionary measure,” due to his asthma and his obesity.

I have no great affection for Christie, who reportedly advised Donald John Trump to bully Joe Biden in the debate, to try to activate his stutter. But him checking into Morristown, of all places, brings this closer to home—quite literally. As it happens, I know that hospital well. It is ten minutes away from the house where I grew up, and where my parents still live. My brother, an ER nurse, used to work there. My father, who has been suffering through a variety of (non-covid, thank god) maladies this past year, has been in and out of Morristown Memorial since January. He was released on Thursday, in fact, two days before the ex-governor was admitted.

Morristown Memorial is also a short drive from Morristown Airport, the small private strip where Air Force One lands when Trump visits his Bedminster golf course. And on the road that goes from my parents’ house to the hospital—in the borough of Florham Park, practically in their backyard—is the headquarters of the Kushner Companies.

There is bad blood between the Kushner family and Chris Christie; when the latter was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, he negotiated the plea deal with Charles Kushner, Jared’s old man, who pleaded guilty to 18 (!) counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering—the last because he hired a prostitute to film herself having sex with his brother-in-law, and then sent the videotape to his sister. Classy guy! The animus between Kushner and Christie reportedly influenced Trump’s decision to tap Mike Pence as Vice President instead of Christie, his friend and preferred choice. That would have been revenge enough. But now, in a macabre quirk of fate, Jared Kushner is indirectly responsible for his father’s nemesis, with his widely reported comorbidities, contracting covid-19.

Lost in the 500-year flood of news these last few weeks was a remarkable piece of reporting by Katherine Eban of Vanity Fair, a follow-up to her first bombshell about Jared Kushner’s critical role in the Trump Administration’s apocalyptically bad pandemic response.

Here was the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor—incidentally, a titular combination generally seen only in Middle Eastern monarchies and Latin American banana republics, now thoroughly normalized by Maggie Haberman and a supine national media—willfully putting the kibosh on a pandemic response plan devised by his own, self-selected pandemic response team. Here was Jared—whose shitbag old man bought his way into Harvard—ignoring what his own people were telling him to do. As Eban explains in her first article:

Inside the White House, over much of March and early April, Kushner’s handpicked group of young business associates, which included a former college roommate, teamed up with several top experts from the diagnostic-testing industry. Together, they hammered out the outline of a national testing strategy. The group—working night and day, using the encrypted platform WhatsApp—emerged with a detailed plan obtained by Vanity Fair.

Rather than have states fight each other for scarce diagnostic tests and limited lab capacity, the plan would have set up a system of national oversight and coordination to surge supplies, allocate test kits, lift regulatory and contractual roadblocks, and establish a widespread virus surveillance system by the fall, to help pinpoint subsequent outbreaks.

After assembling the team and having that team devise a halfway-decent plan, Kushner pulled the plug. Any why? Because he believed the covid outbreaks in New York, New Jersey, and California could be plausibly blamed on the governors of those three states, all of them Democrats, as Eban reports:

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity…

Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force.

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

Kushner was born and raised in New Jersey (in Livingston, 15 minutes from my hometown), is a longtime resident of New York, and spends a great deal of time in California, where his brother Josh lives. And yet he was more than happy to exacerbate the health crisis, to put his own friends and family in greater jeopardy, all to help his father-in-law’s sagging political fortunes (and stay out of prison). He was cool with a Blue State Genocide.

In the second article, Eban writes in greater detail of a meeting held by that group of “shadow advisers”—again: Kushner’s own people—who “implored” him to get the president to invoke the Defense Production Act, to crank out much-needed PPE.

What actually transpired in the room stunned a number of those in attendance….

Kushner, seated at the head of the conference table, in a chair taller than all the others, was quick to strike a confrontational tone. “The federal government is not going to lead this response,” he announced. “It’s up to the states to figure out what they want to do.”

One attendee explained to Kushner that due to the finite supply of PPE, Americans were bidding against each other and driving prices up. To solve that, businesses eager to help were looking to the federal government for leadership and direction.

“Free markets will solve this,” Kushner said dismissively. “That is not the role of government.”

This is the same position taken by Grover Cleveland during the Panic of 1893, and by Herbert Hoover at the onset of the Great Depression—an antediluvian approach mooted by FDR’s New Deal. Kushner was hearkening back to Gilded Age politics, if not the salad days of John C. Calhoun. This was like the commissioner of the NFL advising that the best way for players to avoid concussions was to go back to the leather helmet.

When it was pointed out that states were bidding against each other for PPE, and that only the federal government could effectively manage the situation, Kushner railed against New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose successful crisis management and rising popularity obviously rankled him: “Cuomo didn’t pound the phones hard enough to get PPE for his state….His people are going to suffer and that’s their problem.” 

Again, Kushner was talking about his own state, where he lived for years. “His people” were his people!

The group argued for invoking the Defense Production Act. “We were all saying, ‘Mr. Kushner, if you want to fix this problem for PPE and ventilators, there’s a path to do it, but you have to make a policy change,’” one person who attended the meeting recounted.

In response Kushner got “very aggressive,” the attendee recalled. “He kept invoking the markets” and told the group they “only understood how entrepreneurship works, but didn’t understand how government worked.”

Though Kushner’s arguments “made no sense,” said the attendee, there seemed to be little hope of changing his mind. “It felt like Kushner was the president. He sat in the chair and he was clearly making the decisions.”

Trump, it should be noted, did what his son-in-law told him to do—which is to say, he did nothing. He willfully, knowingly, actively, and unconscionably declined to act. And because Bob Woodward has him on tape, talking sensibly about the coronavirus, in February, it cannot be argued that the President did not understand the danger. And now, both he and the First Lady have tested positive for the disease, as well as any number of attendees at the Amy Covid Barrett superspreader event in the Rose Garden last Saturday—plus almost everyone in the debate prep room with Trump and Chris Christie.

By the end of August, six million Americans had contracted the novel coronavirus. Six million. One would think that that number might resonate with the grandson of Holocaust survivors, but no: Jared’s breathtaking ignorance is matched only by his arrogance—and, of course, his heartlessness. Every bad idea this wicked Administration’s cooked up seems to have originated with Mr. Ivanka:

Back in May, weeks after Kushner pulled the plug on the plan his own task force devised, Christie did a podcast with CNN’s Dana Bash, in which he argued that the country needed to reopen. “There are going to be deaths no matter what,” he said, and then compared the pandemic, disingenuously, to war. “We sent our young men during World War II over to Europe, out to the Pacific, knowing, knowing that many of them would not come home alive,” he said. And: “We decided to make that sacrifice because what we were standing up for what was the American way of life. In the very same way now, we have to stand up for the American way of life.” Little did he know that he would himself be one of the casualties of the Covid Wars.

Because Kushner chose to do nothing, Trump did nothing. Because Trump did nothing, the virus went viral. And now Chris Christie, who spent many maskless hours cooped up in a room with the infected president, is in the hospital a few miles from my hometown—a hospital where, once upon a time, my brother might have been one of the RNs who treated him in the ER—with his very life in the balance.

Irony has been in short supply these last four years. It is back with a vengeance.

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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Jared Kushner speaking with attendees at the 2019 Teen Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Marriott Marquis in Washington. The co-founder of Turning Point USA would later die of covid-19.