There's no denying Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner hold an immense amount of political power at this moment. The first daughter is serving as a special assistant to President Trump, while her husband works as a senior adviser in the administration.
They've been praised by both conservatives and liberals alike as some sort of Trump whisperers. But do they deserve all that credit? John Oliver tackled that issue during last night's episode of Last Week Tonight.
"While Trump himself is divisive, there are two White House figures who are widely admired: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump," Oliver joked. "They're like America's William and Kate, except in this case, both of them are attractive."
The power couple has been painted as the voice of reason in the Trump White House, especially by liberals. But is that an accurate assertion, or even a fair one? The host explored that belief by asking two questions: "Is Ivanka really the moderating influence that people claim, and what in Jared's background justifies such a gigantic White House portfolio?"
In the Trump family, Ivanka has always been cast as the calm, reasonable one. Some people even believe she's the exact opposite of her dad. But what do we really know about her? Not much, as Oliver explained.
In a clip asking what she has in common with her dad, Ivanka replied: "Real estate and golf." But, as Oliver pointed out, "Those are not personal details. Those are core components of the Trump brand, that any stranger associates with them."
Her vague answers also extend to the assumption many people have that she disagrees with her father. In her first interview since President Trump assumed office, Ivanka said she disagrees with the president in private, but people would never really know the impact of her actions.
"Well, that's convenient," Oliver said. "So we should just give her credit when good stuff happens and blame others when bad stuff happens? That’s not a job description of a political adviser. That’s a description of an Old Testament God."
The host then highlighted the danger of the first daughter's non-answers: They're ripe for projection. Her alleged support for things like Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ rights, or her promise to fight climate change, may feel true... but there isn't a lot of evidence.
"You may still like Ivanka. That's fine. She can be appealing, and that's frankly not by accident," Oliver said. "She's been trained in the art of Trump branding to be as vague and likable as possible, so everyone can plausibly think that she shares their values."
And if you think that seems harsh, Oliver pointed to a passage from her 2009 book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. "Perception is more important that reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it's more important than if it is in fact true," she wrote. "This doesn't mean you should be duplicitous or deceitful, but don't go out of your way to correct a false assumption if it plays to your advantage."
Oliver said, "She's pretty much telling you, to your face, not to trust any assumption that you're making about her. So it's possible that she's doing nothing to moderate her father."
And then, there's Kushner. The president's son-in-law has an array of responsibilities in the White House: He's in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East, he's the primary point of contact with more than two dozen countries, he's reforming both veteran care and the criminal justice system, and the list goes on. Hell, the 36-year-old real estate heir is even in charge of revamping the entire federal government.
"Jared's portfolio would be unmanageable for the smartest man on Earth," Oliver said. "So, is Jared Kushner the smartest man on Earth?"
That's a question that can't really be answered based on how little we know about him. Even though Kushner has been in pretty much every meeting with world leaders, we haven't really heard him talk. Like, ever. Oliver pointed out, "In the absence of Jared's spoken thoughts, we've set to relay in second-hand evidence of his brilliance."
In fact, one of the mains reasons Kushner is praised is just that he isn't Steve Bannon. Oliver said, "That recommendation wouldn't get you another job."
In the end, Oliver said it's not the fault of Ivanka or her husband; it's the fault of President Trump, who appointed them.
"And I know that all of this may seem like an evisceration of both Jared and Ivanka, but it is really not. I don't know enough about them to eviscerate them, just as you don't know enough about them to justify putting any real hopes in them," Oliver said.
He added, "It's dangerous to think of them as a moderating influence, as reassuring as that may feel. Because believe me, and it gives me no pleasure to say this: If they are the reason you are sleeping at night, you should probably still be awake."
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