Jared Kushner seems confused. In a strange mixing of metaphors, the real estate scion declared that the government “should be run like a great American company,” and he would be in charge of leading a “SWAT team” to bring business innovations to the West Wing and look into privatizing some parts of government. Government should be run like a business, he told the Washington Post on Sunday, in order to “achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
Kushner’s warped understanding of government’s relationship to citizens is striking. For one thing, the citizens pay for the government — as they pay for SWAT teams — through tax dollars, and they hire and fire the administration through elections. That would make citizens more like bosses or shareholders, not customers, an observation many used to pound Kushner on social media Sunday night.
But citzens as bosses, government as hired help — that’s not quite right, either. Let’s say we, the citizens, are the boss. Donald Trump and Kushner are our employees. Who is the customer? Furthermore, who’s the competition? What’s the market? Really, any analogy between business and government collapses, because the aims of the two are so different: Businesses are run for profit, and government is a social compact. Governments and businesses do not share the same goals or the same incentives, and it’s cheap rhetoric to say a government should be run more like a private corporation.
Kushner’s initiative is a jumble of worthy intentions about Veterans’ Affairs, the opioid epidemic, and access to broadband internet, wrapped in Silicon Valley-sounding cliches about innovation and threats to privatize government institutions.
This effort leans hard on Trump’s self-styled reputation as a competent businessperson. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government,” the president told the Post in a statement. But we’ve yet to see any evidence that Trump, whose companies have declared bankruptcy six times, can follow through on his campaign promises. If the White House were a corporation preparing for its Q1 call with shareholders, this is what it would have to answer for:
- A racist travel ban that inspired mass protests and was twice struck down by federal judges
- Rage tweets about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower that became a major distraction, undermining Trump’s ability to set an agenda and narrative for his presidency
- A probe into Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia, which ensnared Kushner on Monday, when news broke that the Senate committee investigating the issue would question him over meetings with Russian officials
- A humiliating loss in Congress that resulted in shelving the campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare
This string of miscues has left Trump with an approval rating of just 40 percent. Now his son-in-law, himself the heir to a fortune (and the son of a convicted felon), has stumbled again, misstating the role of government itself. But then again, this is a man who didn’t even understand that Obama’s staff would depart the White House at the end of his term. With this administration, the learning curve is steep.