Trump’smps s tribe tri­be­trib a tar­get rget



The po­lit­i­cal po­ten­tial of Don­ald Trump was first no­ticed by a prom­i­nent mem­ber of a pres­i­den­tial fam­ily. On De­cem­ber 21, 1987, Richard M Nixon wrote to Trump in the fol­low­ing glow­ing terms:

“Dear Don­ald, I did not see the pro­gram but Mrs Nixon told me that you were great on The Don­ahue Show. As you can imag­ine, she is an ex­pert on pol­i­tics and she pre­dicts that when­ever you de­cide to run for of­fice you will be a win­ner! With warm re­gards, Sin­cerely, RMN.”

Even in re­tire­ment, Pat Nixon con­tin­ued to ex­er­cise a pri­mary in­flu­ence over her hus­band’s po­lit­i­cal as­sess­ments. This is far from unique in US pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, as best il­lus­trated by Lyn­don John­son ask­ing Lady Bird for her judg­ment im­me­di­ately at the con­clu­sion of a pres­i­den­tial ad­dress. On the phone to the White House fam­ily quar­ters, the Pres­i­dent would ask: “Well, Bird, how did I do?”

Pres­i­den­tial fam­i­lies as­sume a pe­cu­liar sig­nif­i­cance in Wash­ing­ton DC, where trust is at a premium and the pro­fes­sional play­ers al­ways have their own agen­das, from the vice-pres­i­dent to the cab­i­net, to the agen­cies, to the White House press pool.

The Trump fam­ily is by far the most in­flu­en­tial White House clan since the Kennedys and per­haps even since Edith Wil­son man­aged the White House af­ter her hus­band Woodrow’s stroke in 1919, which left him in­ca­pac­i­tated.

The Trump fam­ily is em­bed­ded in this ad­min­is­tra­tion and is pos­sessed of enor­mous in­flu­ence. Son-in-law Jared Kush­ner has both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pol­icy re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing bring­ing peace to the Mid­dle East. Daugh­ter Ivanka’s judg­ment is trusted by the Pres­i­dent, as is that of Don­ald Trump Jr. This we know from his Trump Tower cam­paign meet­ing last year with the Rus­sian emis­saries.

Now the trou­ble with pres­i­den­tial fam­i­lies is they can­not be dis­owned by the pres­i­dent. Chiefs of staff, cam­paign chairs, strate­gic ad­vis­ers and press sec­re­taries can all be fired with­out ei­ther sen­ti­ment or cer­e­mony. Fam­i­lies are for­ever.

And the Trump fam­ily, with its fi­nances, cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal, are close to the core of Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s cur­rent in­quiries, with Don­ald Trump Jr at the eye of the storm.

A few days ago in Lon­don, for­mer MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove made the claim that the Trump em­pire sur­vived the global fi­nan­cial melt­down cour­tesy of Rus­sian in­vestors. This is un­sub­stan­ti­ated and may sim­ply re­flect the an­tipa­thy of both the Bri­tish and US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties to­wards Trump. But if true, this will emerge in Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion; now but­tressed by a sec­ond grand jury em­pan­elled in Wash­ing­ton DC. Mueller is fol­low­ing a money trail. The pres­i­den­tial un­ease about this is ap­par­ent.

Pres­i­den­tial fam­i­lies gen­er­ally fall into three broad cat­e­gories; the pow­er­ful; the pesti­len­tial; or the priv­i­leged.

The pow­er­ful would cer­tainly in­clude Eleanor Roo­sevelt, who carved out an in­spir­ing role as first lady, from the depths of the Great De­pres­sion to vic­tory in the Sec­ond World War. More than a few first ladies have mod­elled them­selves on ER, who did not hes­i­tate to chal­lenge FDR on pol­icy is­sues as im­por­tant as civil rights.

Jac­que­line Kennedy brought style and a sense of her­itage to the White House. Nancy Rea­gan oc­cu­pied a pow­er­ful place in her hus­band’s ad­min­is­tra­tion as best ev­i­denced by in­com­ing chief of staff, Howard Baker, declar­ing that he would be talk­ing to the first lady about “what­ever she wants”.

But Bobby Kennedy best ex­em­pli­fies the pow­er­ful. As Jack’s at­tor­ney-gen­eral, he un­der­took every role his brother as­signed, from pres­i­den­tial emis­sary dur­ing the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis to the pur­suit of the board of US Steel af­ter an out­ra­geous price hike. RFK, how­ever, is the ex­cep­tion where pres­i­den­tial brothers are con­cerned.

Pesti­len­tial nui­sances are more fre­quently on dis­play.

Billy Carter was a con­tin­u­ing em­bar­rass­ment to his brother, Jimmy, with a bev­er­age “Billy Beer” even named in his hon­our. Roger Clin­ton ac­tu­ally re­ceived a pardon from half-brother Bill, in an ex­er­cise of pres­i­den­tial clemency. Don­ald Nixon had per­haps the great­est im­pact on the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency. Don­ald was the ben­e­fi­ciary of a $US205,000 bailout from ec­cen­tric bil­lion­aire Howard Hughes.

Hughes’ prin­ci­pal lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton was se­nior Demo­crat Larry O’Brien, who rose to be­come chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

It was O’Brien’s of­fice in the Water­gate Build­ing that was the tar­get of the White House “plum­bers” bur­glary in June 1972 as they sought ev­i­dence of Hughes’s “loan”. Ul­ti­mately, this brought about the fall of Don­ald’s brother, Richard M. Nixon.

To date, the Trump fam­ily may sim­ply be char­ac­terised as priv­i­leged, but that may well change. The con­cen­tra­tion of power in the Trump off­spring is un­usual in White House his­tory, al­though Amer­i­can pol­i­tics have tra­di­tion­ally been dom­i­nated by great po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies. The Roo­sevelt chil­dren sup­ported their crip­pled fa­ther through­out FDR’s pres­i­dency, in both a phys­i­cal and emo- tional sense. There are cer­tain par­al­lels be­tween Anna Roo­sevelt and Ivanka Trump, given their close­ness to their fathers.

How­ever, the Trump fam­ily is not born of pol­i­tics. Its loy­al­ties are per­sonal and tribal, which pro­vides both strength to the in­cum- bent and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for crit­ics bent on de­struc­tion. Busi­ness deal­ings loom large.

From the Re­pub­lic’s ear­li­est days great fam­i­lies have oc­cu­pied high po­lit­i­cal of­fice on a re­cur­ring ba­sis: the Adams, Har­risons; Roo­sevelts, and Bushes all provid- ing more than one pres­i­dent. Not to men­tion the Kennedys, Rock­e­fellers, Gores or Clin­tons, who have been sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal play­ers in both ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches, as well as at state level. To il­lus­trate, in eight of the past 10 pres­i­den­tial races a Clin­ton or a Bush has ap­peared on the ticket for Demo­cratic or Repub­li­can nom­i­nees.

This runs counter to tra­di­tional Amer­i­can as­pi­ra­tions. To place mat­ters in per­spec­tive, the great Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Arthur M. Sch­lesinger ob­served op­ti­misti­cally in 1947: “As a democ­racy the United States ought pre­sum­ably to be able to dis­pense of dy­nas­tic fam­i­lies.”

This has not come to pass and Sch­lesinger’s con­clu­sion re­mains even more rel­e­vant today, as Wash­ing­ton elites sup­pos­edly give way to an im­pe­rial pres­i­dency wor­thy of Richard Nixon. The US has not ever achieved the sta­tus of In­dia, which was of­ten re­ferred to as an hered­i­tary democ­racy, re­flected in the cen­tral­ity of the role of the Gandhi fam­ily and the Congress Party. How­ever, on oc­ca­sions it has come close.

Don­ald Trump broke this mould and his fam­ily has as­sumed a pow­er­ful place in the tak­ing of spoils.

How­ever, this po­si­tion of priv­i­lege in Wash­ing­ton DC brings with it not only rig­or­ous scru­tiny but also the im­po­si­tion of very def­i­nite ac­count­abil­ity.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s reliance on his fam­ily means Trump Tower in New York City has a third T em­bla­zoned upon it. Tar­get.

Stephen Loosley is a vis­it­ing Fel­low at the United States Stud­ies Cen­tre at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney.

To date, the Trump fam­ily may sim­ply be char­ac­terised as priv­i­leged

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