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Past and Present

Past & Present: Nepotism In The White House

The ongoing controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has generated increased discussion of Trump’s flaunting of professional decorum regarding nepotism. Still, while the Trump presidency has featured a variety of unprecedented actions, his selection of family members to serve in a variety of governmental capacities is not one of them.

Despite public criticism, John Adams, the second president of the United States, named his son John Quincy Adams as the U.S. minister to Prussia and his son-in-law William Stephens Smith as a customs agent in New York.

Later presidents, such as James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler and James Buchanan, employed relatives in a variety of lower-level positions in the White House.

More recently, John F. Kennedy nominated Robert Kennedy to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, notwithstanding his younger brother’s limited legal background. Moreover, JFK appointed his brother-in-law R. Sargent Shriver to serve as the first head of the Peace Corps.

But even in the context of this history, the case of Jared Kushner is simultaneously laughable and frightening. Although Kushner’s professional background is in commercial real estate, his government portfolio includes advising on such sensitive international and domestic issues as the Middle East peace process, diplomacy with Mexico and China, and the national campaign to combat the opioid crisis. Kushner’s work in the Trump Administration seemingly gives new meaning to the phrase “the blind leading the blind.”