You think your kids cause messes when you’re not looking? They’ve got nothing on the Trumps.
First, Ivanka briefly sat in for her dad among world leaders at the G-20 summit in Hamburg this weekend. Some very smart people saw this as a nothing burger, but it struck me as stunning. Sure, she’s technically a “senior” presidential advisor, but come on.
Then came the reports that Donald, Jr., having been tempted with damaging information about Hillary Clinton, took a meeting with a Russian attorney (Ivanka’s husband was there, too). This development, which could turn out to be big, reinforces the narrative about Russian collusion the Trump administration hasn’t been able to shake.
Both stories show the kids to be even more involved in this presidency than previously imagined. And both reinforce perceptions about a presidency that looks too much like a hereditary regime.
Of course, this is not entirely unprecedented. As Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord has noted, presidents ranging from John Adams to Franklin Roosevelt enlisted their sons to help while in office. Robert F. Kennedy famously managed his brother’s political campaigns before ultimately being named his attorney general. And President Bill Clinton famously tapped First Lady Hillary Clinton to head up his health care task force.
Like many of the norms Trump has broken, lines are subtly crossed, inch by inch. Hillary Clinton and Robert Kennedy, for example, had more experience than Ivanka or Don, Jr. There are other differences, too. The Trump kids are, to some degree, profiting financially from their father’s presidency.
Maybe it’s with the benefit of hindsight, but the involvement of Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton seem quant in comparison. I wonder if there is something more acceptable about them because they were ostensibly equals with the president? In other words, do the Trump kids rub us wrong because there is a hereditary subtext that it subverts American electoral democracy a little bit?
As with everything these days, there is also hypocrisy to be found here. Some of the same people now in love with Trump’s Brat Pack criticized this sort of thing in the past. Republicans were understandably critical of Bill Clinton for placing his wife in charge of overhauling one-sixth of the U.S. economy. (How do you fire your wife if she does something wrong? And how do other staffers voice opposition to ideas proposed by the wife of the president?) Republicans also mocked President Jimmy Carter when he mentioned in a debate a conversation with his then-13-year old daughter Amy about nuclear proliferation.
President Trump and Chelsea Clinton got into a back-and-forth on Twitter about this, but rest assured that if It were Chelsea instead of Ivanka, Republicans would be outraged.
Meanwhile, some of the people who wouldn’t have blinked an eye if another Bush or Clinton won the White House are outraged that this White House has become a family business.
Small-r republicans have a substantive objection to what looks like an emerging dynasty, and a lot of other Americans simply resent the fact that spoiled kids who were born on third base are clearly more powerful than experienced policy experts and political hands who paid their dues and actually know a thing or two. Whether you fear for the republic—or just hate nepotism—there’s an angle for you.
For months now, I have argued that the Trump children (as well as son-in-law Jared Kushner) were largely positive forces in the Trump administration. This was because, compared with Trump’s own judgment—and that of some of his non-family political advisors—they at least seemed rational. They seemed to be able to soothe the patriarch.
I still wonder what would a Trump presidency look like without the kids. Better? Worse? It’s unclear. But the last 72 hours have led me to this conclusion: The kids aren’t alright.