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Thursday
Aug302018

Imperial President or Emperor With No Clothes?

How Donald Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
This first appeared in Tom Dispatch, June 21, 2018

Leaders are routinely confronted with philosophical dilemmas. Here’s a classic one for our Trumptopian times: If you make enemies out of your friends and friends out of your enemies, where does that leave you?

What does winning (or losing) really look like? Is a world in which walls of every sort encircle America’s borders a goal worth seeking? And what would be left in a future fragmented international economic system marked by tit-for-tat tariffs, travel restrictions, and hyper-nationalism? Ultimately, how will such a world affect regular people?

Let’s cut through all of this for the moment and ask one crucial question about our present cult-of-personality era in American politics: Other than accumulating more wealth and influence for himself, his children, and the Trump family empire, what’s Donald J. Trump’s end game as president? If his goal is to keep this country from being, as he likes to complain, “the world’s piggy bank,” then his words, threats, and actions are concerning. However bombastic and disdainful of a history he appears to know little about, he is already making the world a less stable, less affordable, and more fear-driven place. In the end, it’s even possible that, despite the upbeat economic news of the moment, he could almost singlehandedly smash that piggy bank himself, as he has many of his own business ventures.

Still, give him credit for one thing: Donald Trump has lent remarkable new meaning to the old phrase “the imperial presidency.” The members of his administration, largely a set of aging white men, either conform to his erratic wishes or get fired. In other words, he’s running domestic politics in much the same fashion as he oversaw the boardroom on his reality TV show The Apprentice.

Now, he’s begun running the country’s foreign policy in the same personalized, take-no-prisoners, you’re-fired style. From the moment he hit the Oval Office, he’s made it clear at home and abroad that it’s his way or the highway. If only, of course, it really was that simple. What he will learn, if “learning process” and “President Trump” can even occupy the same sentence, is that “firing” Canada, the European Union (EU), or for that matter China has a cost.

What the American working and the middle classes will see (sooner than anyone imagines) is that actions of his sort have unexpected global consequences. They could cost the U.S. and the rest of the world big time. If he were indeed emperor and his subjects (that would be us) grasped where his policies might be leading, they would be preparing a revolt. In the end, they -- again, that’s us -- will be the ones paying the price in this global chess match.

The Art of Trump’s Deals

So far, President Trump has only taken America out of trade deals or threatened to do so if other countries don’t behave in a way that satisfies him. On his third day in the White House, he honored his campaign promise to remove the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a decision that opened space for our allies and competitors, China in particular, to negotiate deals without us. Since that grand exit, there has, in fact, been a boom in side deals involving China and other Pacific rim countries that has weakened, not strengthened, Washington’s global bargaining position. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Trump administration has engaged in a barrage of NAFTA-baiting that is isolating us from our regional partners, Canada and Mexico.

Conversely, the art-of-the-deal aficionado has yet to sign a single new bilateral trade deal. Despite steadfast claims that he would serve up the best deals ever, we have been left with little so far but various tariffs and an onslaught against American trading partners. His one claim to bilateral-trade-deal fame was the renegotiation of a six-year-old deal with South Korea in March that doubled the number of cars each U.S. manufacturer could export to South Korea (without having to pass as many safety standards).

As White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put it, when speaking of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, “The President is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation...” She left out the obvious footnote, however: any type that doesn’t involve international trade.

In the past four months, Trump has imposed tariffs, exempting certain countries, only to re-impose them at his whim. If trust were a coveted commodity, when it came to the present White House, it would now be trading at zero. His supporters undoubtedly see this approach as the fulfillment of his many campaign promises and part of his classic method of keeping both friends and enemies guessing until he’s ready to go in for the kill. At the heart of this approach, however, lies a certain global madness, for he now is sparking a set of trade wars that could, in the end, cost millions of American jobs.

The Allies

On May 31st, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that Canada, Mexico, and the EU would all be hit with 10% aluminum and 25% steel tariffs that had first made headlines in March. When it came to those two products, at least, the new tariffs bore no relation to the previous average 3% tariff on U.S.-EU traded goods.

In that way, Trump’s tariffs, initially supposed to be aimed at China (a country whose president he’s praised to the skies and whose trade policies he’s lashed out at endlessly), went global. And not surprisingly, America’s closest allies weren’t taking his maneuver lightly. As the verbal abuse level rose and what looked like a possible race to the bottom of international etiquette intensified, they threatened to strike back.

In June, President Trump ordered that a promised 25% tariff on $50 billionworth of imported goods from China also be imposed. In response, the Chinese, like the Europeans, the Canadians, and the Mexicans, immediately promised a massive response in kind. Trump countered by threatening another $200 billion in tariffs against China. In the meantime, the White House is targetting its initial moves largely against products related to that country’s "Made in China 2025" initiative, the Chinese government's strategic plan aimed at making it a major competitor in advanced industries and manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Mexico began adopting retaliatory tariffs on American imports. Although it has a far smaller economy than the U.S., it’s still the second largest importer of U.S. products, buying a whopping $277 billion of them last year. Only Canada buys more. In a mood of defiance stoked by the president’s hostility to its people, Mexico executed its own trade gambit, imposing $3 billion in 15%-25% tariffs against U.S. exports, including pork, apples, potatoes, bourbon, and cheese.

While those Mexican revenge tariffs still remain limited, covering just 1% of all exports from north of the border, they do target particular industries hard, especially ones that seem connected to President Trump’s voting “base.” Mexico, for instance, is by far the largest buyer of U.S. pork exports, 25% of which were sold there last year. What its 20% tariff on pork means, then, is that many U.S. producers will now find themselves unable to compete in the Mexican market. Other countries may follow suit. The result: a possible loss of up to 110,000 jobs in the pork industry.

Our second North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partner (for whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, there is “a special place in hell,” according to a key Trumpian trade negotiator) plans to invoke tariffs of up to 25% on about $13 billion in U.S. products beginning on July 1st. Items impacted range “from ballpoint pens and dishwasher detergent to toilet paper and playing cards... sailboats, washing machines, dish washers, and lawn mowers.” Across the Atlantic, the EU has similarly announced retaliatory tariffs of 25% on 200 U.S. products, including such American-made classics as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, blue jeans, and bourbon.

Trump Disses the Former G7

As the explosive Group of Seven, or G7, summit in Quebec showed, the Trump administration is increasingly isolating itself from its allies in palpable ways and, in the process, significantly impairing the country’s negotiating power. If you combine the economies of what might now be thought of as the G6 and add in the rest of the EU, its economic power is collectively larger than that of the United States. Under the circumstances, even a small diversion of trade thanks to Trump-induced tariff wars could have costly consequences.

President Trump did try one “all-in” poker move at that summit. With his game-face on, he first suggested the possibility of wiping out all tariffs and trade restrictions between the U.S. and the rest of the G7, a bluff met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Before he left for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, he even suggested that the G7 leaders “consider removing every single tariff or trade barrier on American goods.” In return, he claimed he would do the same “for products from their countries.” As it turned out, however, that wasn’t actually a venture into economic diplomacy, just the carrot before the stick, and even it was tied to lingering threats of severe penalties.

The current incipient trade war was actually launched by the Trump administration in March in the name of American “national security.” What should have been highlighted, however, was the possible “national insecurity” in which it placed the country’s (and the world’s) future. After all, a similar isolationist stance in the 1920s and the subsequent market crash of 1929 sparked the global Great Depression, opening the way for the utter devastation of World War II.

European Union countries were incredulous when Trump insisted, as he had many times before, that the “U.S. is a victim of unfair trade practices,” citing the country’s trade deficits, especially with Germany and China. At the G7 summit, European leaders did their best to explain to him that his country isn’t actually being treated unfairly. As French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “France runs trade deficits with Germany and the United Kingdom on manufactured goods, even though all three countries are part of the EU single market and have zero tariffs between them.”

Having agreed to sign on to a post-summit joint statement, the president suddenly opted out while on his flight to Singapore, leaving his allies in the lurch (and subsequently slamming the Canadian prime minister as “very dishonest” and “weak”). In that communiqué, signed by the other six summit attendees, they noted, "We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers, and subsidies... We acknowledge that free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment, while creating reciprocal benefits, are key engines for growth and job creation."

The Pushback

The fallout domestically from the coming trade wars could be horrific if Trump truly makes good on his promises and refuses to back down, while the countries he’s attacking ratchet up their own responses, whether in terms of tariffs or simply a refusal to buy American goods. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, up to 2.6 million American jobs could be threatened if, in the process, the U.S. also withdraws from NAFTA.

Even American CEOs are now running scared of the CEO-in-chief. A recent survey conducted by the Business Roundtable lobby group, chaired by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, revealed that their “economic outlook index” had declined this past quarter from a record high, the first drop in two years. According to the report, nearly two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed considered trade policy a "serious risk." Rather than planning future corporate hiring sprees, as Trump might have us believe, their fears of future trade wars actually seem to be curtailing job-expansion plans.

European leaders at the G7 summit admitted that, despite their own role in escalating global trade tensions, the coming wars “would hurt everyone.” And therein lies the danger and the disconnect. Thanks largely to Donald Trump, the leaders of the key countries on the planet could now proceed to destroy trade relationships, knowing full well that the results will hurt their workers and damage the global economy.

A recent report by Andy Stoeckel and Warwick McKibbin for the Brookings Institution analyzed just such a future trade war scenario and found that, if global tariffs were to rise just 10%, the gross national product (GDP) of most countries would fall by between 1% and 4.5% -- the U.S. GDP by 1.3%, China’s by 4.3%. A 40% rise in tariffs would ensure a deep global recession or depression. In the 1930s, it was the punitive U.S. Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped spark the devastating cocktail of nationalism and economic collapse that culminated in World War II. This time, who knows what The Donald’s tariffs will spark?

The End Game

When trade wars escalate and geopolitical tensions rise, economies can be badly damaged, leading to a vicious cycle of aggressive responses. And here’s the remarkable thing about the power of America’s imperial presidency in 2018: Donald Trump could unilaterally slow, alter, or under certain circumstances even shut down various elements of global trade -- and if he manages to do so, there will be a price to pay in jobs and in this planet’s economic stability.

Catalyzed by tweets, denunciations, insults, and the tariff-first shots of his administration, our allies will undoubtedly try to trade more with each other to close gaps that his trade wars open. Ultimately, that will hurt the U.S. and its workers, especially Trump’s base. For instance, German carmaker BMW, Japanese carmaker Toyota, and other foreign car companies employ 130,000 people in the United States. If, in response to new tariffs on their products, they were to begin moving their operations to France or Mexico in retaliation, it's American workers who would lose out.

But make no mistake: American allies, who rely on the staggeringly powerful U.S. market, will lose out, too. Weighed down by tariffs, their products will become less competitive here, which is what Trump wants. However, that won’t necessarily mean the end of trade deficits; it could just mean less trade everywhere, a situation that should bring to mind the global depression of the 1930s. And if you think Donald Trump is already a threat to world stability, imagine what might happen after years of economic duress. As was the case in the 1930s, when volatile conditions made it easier for dictators like Adolf Hitler to convince people that their economic woes stemmed from others, the path to a fire-and-fury world remains grimly open.

In Washington, Donald Trump’s unique version of the imperial presidency seems to be expanding to fill any void as alliances like the G7 that were once so crucial to the way the United States dominated much of the planet and its economy are being diminished. The question that should make anybody nervous is not yet answerable: What’s the end game?

The global economic system first put in place after World War II was no longer working particularly well even before President Trump’s trade wars began. The problem now is that its flaws are being exacerbated. Once it becomes too expensive for certain companies to continue operating as their profits go to tariffs or tariffs deflect their customers elsewhere (or nowhere), one thing is certain: it will get worse.

 

Friday
Apr272018

The Next Crash: Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster

This piece first appeared in TomDispatch.

 

Warning: What you are about to read is not about Russia, the 2016 election, or the latest person to depart from the White House in a storm of tweets. It’s the Beltway story hiding in plain sight with trillions of dollars in play and an economy to commandeer.
While we’ve been bombarded with a litany of scandals from the Oval Office and the Trump family, there’s a crucial institution in Washington that few in the media seem to be paying attention to, even as President Trump quietly makes it his own. More obscure than the chambers of the Supreme Court, it’s a place where he has already made substantial changes. I’m talking about the Federal Reserve. 
As the central bank of the United States, the “Fed” sets the financial tone for the global economy by manipulating interest rate levels. This impacts everyone, yet very few grasp the scope of its influence.
During times of relative economic calm, the Fed is regularly forgotten. But what history shows us is that having leaders who are primed to neglect Wall Street’s misdoings often sets the scene for economic dangers to come. That’s why nominees to the Fed are so crucial.
We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come -- even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence.
The president’s latest two nominees to that institution’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.
Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed’s Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams -- the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street -- as part of the most powerful trio at that institution.
Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.
Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort.  Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but.
As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while - or at least the midterm elections - by keeping money cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.  
History Warns Us

At a time when inequality, economic hardship, and household and personal debt levels are escalating and wages are not, why should any of this matter to the rest of us? The answer is simple enough: because the Fed sets the level of interest rates and so the cost of money. This, in turn, indirectly impacts the value of the dollar, which means everything you buy.
Since the financial crisis, the Fed has kept the cost of borrowing money for banks at near zero percent interest. That allowed those banks to borrow money to buy their own stock (as did many corporations) to inflate their value but not, of course, the value of their service to Main Street.
When money is cheap because interest rates are low or near zero, the beneficiaries are those with the most direct access to it. That means, of course, that the biggest banks, members of the Fed since its inception, get the largest chunks of fabricated money and pay the least amount of interest for it.
Although during the election campaign of 2016 Trump chastised the Fed for its cheap-money policies, he’s since evidently changed his mind (which is, of course, very Trumpian of him). That’s because he knows that the lower the cost of money is, the easier it is for major companies to borrow it. Easy money means easy speculation for Wall Street and its main corporate clients, which sooner or later will be a threat to the rest of us. 
The era of trade wars, soaring stock markets, and Trump gaffes may feel like it’s gone on forever. Don’t forget, though, that there was a moment not so long ago when the same banking policies still reigning caused turmoil, ripping through the country and devouring the finances of so many. It’s worth recalling for a moment what happened during the Great Meltdown of 2008, when unrestrained mega-banks ravaged the economy before being bailed out. In the midst of the current market ecstasy, it’s an easy past to ignore. That’s why Trump’s takeover of the Fed and its impact on the financial system matters so much.
Let's recall that, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers crashed. That bank, like Goldman Sachs a former employer of mine, had been around for more than 150 years. Its collapse was a key catalyst in a spiral of disaster that nearly decimated the world financial system. It wasn’t the bankruptcy that did it, however, but the massive amount of money the surviving banks had already lent Lehman to buy the toxic assets they created.
Around the same time, Merrill Lynch, a competitor of Lehman's, was sold to Bank of America for $50 billion and American International Group (AIG) received $182 billion in government assistance. JPMorgan Chase had already bought Bear Stearns, which had crashed six months earlier, utilizing a $29 billion government and Federal Reserve security blanket in the process.
In the wake of Lehman’s bankruptcy, $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies from the Federal Reserve and Congress were offered mostly to Wall Street’s biggest banks. That flow of money allowed them to return from the edge of financial disaster. At the same time, it fueled the stock and bond markets, as untethered from economic realities as the hot air balloon in The Wizard of Oz.
After nearly tripling since the post-financial crisis spring of 2009, last year the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose magically again by nearly 24%. Why? Because despite all of his swamp-draining campaign talk, Trump embraced the exact same bank-coddling behavior as President Obama. He advocated the Fed’s cheap-money policy and hired Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and Wall Street’s special friend, as his Treasury secretary. He doubled down on rewarding ongoing malfeasance and fraud by promoting the deregulation of the banks, as if Wall Street’s greed and high appetite for risk had vanished. 
Impending Signs of Crisis

A quarter of the way into 2018, shadows of 2008 are already emerging. Only two months ago, the Dow logged its worst single-day point decline in history before bouncing back with vigor. In the meantime, the country whose banks caused the last crisis faces record consumer and corporate debt levels and a vulnerable geopolitical global landscape.
True, the unemployment rate is significantly lower than it was at the height of the financial crisis, but for Main Street, growth hasn’t been quite so apparent. About one in five U.S. jobs still pays a median income below the federal poverty line. Median household income is only up 5.3% since 2008 and remains well below where it was in 1998, if you adjust for inflation. Workforce participation remains nearly as low as it's ever been. Meanwhile, the top 1% of American earners saw their incomes go up by leaps and bounds since the Fed started manufacturing money -- to more than 40 times that of the bottom 90%.
Just as before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, there’s a scary level of confidence among politicians and regulators that neither the economy nor the banking sector could possibly go bust. Even the new Federal Reserve chair views the possible need for bailouts as a relic of a bygone time. As he said at his confirmation hearing, “Generally speaking I think the financial system is quite strong.” When asked if there are any U.S. banks that are still too big to fail, he responded, “I would say no to that.”  
That’s a pretty decisive statement, and not strikingly different from one outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen made last year. By extension, it means that Trump’s new chairman supports laxer structures for the big banks and more cheap money, if needed, to help them. So watch out. 
When a crisis hits, liquidity dies, and banks close their doors to the public. Ultimately, the same formula for crisis will surely send Wall Street executives crawling back to the government for aid and then Donald Trump will find out what financial negligence truly is.
A Time of Crisis and Financial Collusion

As signs of crisis emerge, few in Washington have delved into how we can ensure that a systemic crash does not happen again. That’s why I’ll never forget the strange message I got one day. It was in the middle of May 2015, about a year after my book, All the Presidents' Bankers, had been published, when I received an email from the Federal Reserve. Every year, the Fed, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank hold an annual conference where the most elite central bankers from around the globe assemble. To my shock, since I hadn't exactly written in a kindly fashion about the Fed, I was being invited to speak at the opening session about why Wall Street wasn’t helping Main Street.
Two months later, I found myself sitting in front of a room filled with central bankers from around the world, listening to Fed Chair Janet Yellen proclaim that the worst of the crisis and its causes were behind us. In response, the first thing I asked that distinguished crowd was this: “Do you want to know why big Wall Street banks aren’t helping Main Street as much as they could?” The room was silent. I paused before answering, “Because you never required them to.” 
I added, “The biggest six U.S. banks have been rewarded with an endless supply of cheap money in bailouts and loans for their dangerous behavior. They have been given open access to these funds with no major consequences, and no rules on how they should utilize the Fed’s largess to them to help the real economy. Why should you expect their benevolence?”
After I returned home, I became obsessed with uncovering just how the bailouts and loans of that moment were only the tip of an iceberg, the sort of berg that had once taken down the Titanic -- how that cheap money fabricated for Wall Street had been no isolated American incident.
What my research for my new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, revealed was how central bankers and massive financial institutions have worked together to manipulate global markets for the past decade. Major central banks gave themselves a blank check with which to resurrect problematic banks; purchase government, mortgage, and corporate bonds; and in some cases -- as in Japan and Switzerland -- stocks, too. They have not had to explain to the public where those funds were going or why. Instead, their policies have inflated asset bubbles, while coddling private banks and corporations under the guise of helping the real economy. 
The zero-interest-rate and bond-buying central bank policies prevailing in the U.S., Europe, and Japan have been part of a coordinated effort that has plastered over potential financial instability in the largest countries and in private banks. It has, in turn, created asset bubbles that could explode into an even greater crisis the next time around.
So, today, we stand near -- how near we don’t yet know -- the edge of a dangerous financial precipice. The risks posed by the largest of the private banks still exist, only now they’re even bigger than they were in 2007-2008 and operating in an arena of even more debt. In Donald Trump’s America, what this means is that the same dangerous policies are still being promoted today. The difference now is that the president is appointing members to the Fed who will only increase the danger of those risks for years to come.
A crash could prove to be President Trump’s worst legacy. Not only is he -- and the Fed he’s helping to create -- not paying attention to the alarm bells (ignored by the last iteration of the Fed as well), but he’s ensured that none of his appointees will either. After campaigning hard against the ills of global finance in the 2016 election campaign and promising a modern era Glass-Steagall Act to separate bank deposits from the more speculative activities on Wall Street, Trump's policy reversals and appointees leave our economy more exposed than ever. 
When politicians and regulators are asleep at the wheel, it’s the rest of us who will suffer sooner or later. Because of the collusion that’s gone on and continues to go on among the world’s main central banks, that problem is now an international one.

 

 

Wednesday
Mar212018

Jared Kushner, R.I.P. A Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law

This piece first appeared in TomDispatch.

Here we are a little more than a year into the Trump presidency and his administration’s body count is already, as The Donald might put it, “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting.”

Among the casualties are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; my former boss at Goldman Sachs, economic policy chief Gary Cohn; National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; FBI Director James Comey; White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer; four other communications directors including Hope Hicks who, having been Ivanka Trump's confidante, was elevated to the status of the president’s “real daughter” before her own White House exit; chief strategist Steve Bannon; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; a bunch of other instant relics of Trumpian political history, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Actually, a 200-year-old magnolia uprooted from the White House grounds thanks to the first lady.)

Responding to Hope Hicks' departure and, perhaps subliminally, the rumored future exile of son-in-law Jared Kushner, the president typically half-lamented and half-quipped, “So many people have been leaving the White House. It’s invigorating, since you want turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Who’s going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?”

Melania has been unavailable for comment on her own possible future place among the fallen of the Trump era.  Perhaps, though, she’ll hang around and offer her husband a little comfort in Stormy weather, as rumors continue to circulate that his perfectly real daughter and her all-too-real husband may be ousted from the premises.

Not surprisingly, personnel issues seem to be on the president’s mind these days.  On March 6th, in the East Room of the White House and flanked by the Swedish prime minister, he boasted, “So many people want to come in. I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House, and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there."

However, with constant media conjectures about yet more departures including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and possibly even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, there seems to be a predisposition to move out of, not into, this Oval Office.  In a remarkably short space of time, President Trump has already achieved a record 43% turnover rate for top-level staff members, some of whom may be jumping ship in hopes of emerging with reputations relatively untarred, while avoiding lengthy prison sentences.

As collateral damage in his world mounts, it seems as if the only members of the Trump Empire, White House division, guaranteed job security are his lawyers and perhaps Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Even that most nuclear of families -- his -- seemed in peril of exploding, as the countdown to Kushner's exit approaches the zero hour. It looks as if we may all have scored front-row seats for the latest you’re-fired episode in the White House reality show.

Given the not-if-but-when nature of Kushner’s departure from the White House, it’s none too soon for media outlets to prepare themselves.  With that in mind, here is a prospective political obituary for him.

Bringing Peace to a Riven World

The political career of Jared Kushner met a slow death from unparalleled incompetence, conflicts of interest, and financial sleights of hand. He is survived by his father-in-law Donald Trump and -- though no one knows for how long -- his wife, Ivanka. At age 37, he had held the role of White House senior adviser and assistant to the president since the day Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. Just two months later, his wife agreed to take a similar advisory position.  Though together they were reported to be worth a mere $740 million, they generously offered to do their new jobs without pay from a sense of duty to country and the kindness of their hearts -- and also perhaps to avoid running afoul of an anti-nepotism law passed in 1967 when Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Jared’s year-plus in the White House proved another Trump-style record setter, a pro bono financial odyssey of a sort no previous White House had ever witnessed.  While traveling the globe to carry out his “duties” and hobnob, negotiate, and pose for endless photo-ops with world leaders from Iraq, China, Israel, and a host of other countries -- a role once upon a time filled by the secretary of state -- the overworked adviser somehow found a few moments to cash in his diplomatic air-miles big time.

In his Rolodex of titles, he would also serve as head of a completely fabricated new entity, the White House Office of American Innovation. In both capacities, he stood ready to change the world, a goal he achieved handily -- if the world you happen to be talking about was his own financial one. And that was no small thing.  After all, it’s not easy to oversee and advance (or, in his case, even potentially depth charge) your private business interests while lending a hand running the country, not to speak of the world, and freeing your father-in-law to work on his golf stroke.

For example, Kushner attempted to extract from investors in Qatar a modest half-billion dollars in bailout funds for a cratering Manhattan skyscraper, 666 Fifth Avenue, that he had purchased for his family business while still in the private sector. Unfortunately, that particular deal fell through, after which Kushner and his father-in-law happily backed the Saudis in their blockade and quarantine of Qatar.

Taking his business-oriented focus on the road as the White House liaison for peace in the Middle East, Kushner was also tasked with the simple goal of brokering the settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. His familiarity with the region was significant since, among other things, he had gotten at least four major loans from Bank HapoalimIsrael’s largest bank, for the Kushner family real estate company. (Hapoalim is undergoing a criminal probe by the U.S. government for tax evasion services it reportedly provided to its wealthy clients.) Shortly before President Trump’s visit to Israel in May 2017, Kushner Companies also received a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, one of Israel’s largest insurers -- and what could be more peaceable than that? As everyone knows, Kushner himself left office just as peace was settling over the region (and the U.S. was moving its embassy to Jerusalem).

China, of course, had been a longtime target of Donald Trump until -- in a similarly diplomatic frame of mind -- Kushner helped organize a fabulous Dover sole dinner at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club with Chinese President Xi Jinping last April.  He would also prove to be a key figure in smoothing the way for better relations with that rising global superpower -- an approach that just happened to fit perfectly with the Kushner family business.  Only a month after that dinner, for example, his sister, Nicole Meyer, was already reportedly pitchingthe glories of One Journal Square, a Jersey City housing project the Kushner family owns that was in need of $150 million in investments, to a gathering of 100 potential Chinese investors at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing. As part of that pitch, while dropping her brother’s name, she offered them a path into the U.S. EB-5 visa program, sometimes referred to as a “citizenship for sale” program, which they could enter through Kushner properties for a mere $500,000 each.

Building brilliantly on his Chinese portfolio, Jared Kushner, too, held private meetings with elite potential Chinese investors in... well, properties like his family’s and spent copious time with the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. during and after the election campaign. He allegedly also attended high-level meetings with the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group during the Trump transition period.  At the time, Anbang just coincidentally was considering making an investment in 666 Fifth Avenue.  Unfortunately, no deal resulted. Since then, the company has been seized by the Chinese government and its chairman prosecuted for “economic crimes.”  For Kushner, refinancing that single building in New York proved no easier than making peace in the Middle East.

But give him credit: while advising the president, he never stopped looking out for those closest to him (i.e., his family) and never forgot his role as a junior mogul on the make.  In the process, he entertained a cast of key bank executives.  In an office only doors from the Oval Office, he regularly connected with some of the biggest players on Wall Street, including those at bailout-prone Citigroup, scandal-ridden Deutsche Bank, and the asset-management goliath Blackstone Group. As the Wall Street Journal reported, he also remained in undisclosed business relationships with Goldman Sachs, investor George Soros, and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel. All three had business stakes in a “real-estate tech startup called Cadre that Kushner co-founded and currently partly owns.”

Being the statesman he was, however, there can be little doubt that Kushner attended such meetings purely to explore the state of banking and investment for the sake of the economic well-being of the American people. After all, no portfolio, from the secretary of state’s to infrastructure and the opioid crisis, was beyond his skills.

In his brief time in the White House, one thing can be said: his generosity of spirit was second to none. He opened his arms to any financial firm that wanted to help him put the United States on a path back to being great again.  (Whatever multi-million-dollar loans to the Kushner family business occurred in the process surely represented no more than a random confluence of events.) Last November, for example, Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, loaned $184 million to Kushner’s family real estate company in order to refinance a mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper. That was after its founder, an adviser to the Trump administration on “infrastructure,” met numerous times with Kushner in the White House.

When that sum proved less than adequate for the family’s dreams, a far larger company, one that the U.S government had bailed out during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, stepped in and offered his family firm an even bigger loan.  It came from Citigroup, which lent Kushner Companies $325 million to help finance office buildings in Brooklyn.  As the New York Times reported, “That loan was made in the spring of 2017, shortly after Mr. Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat.”

In all such situations, the appearance of impropriety was at best circumstantial. In his year-plus in the White House, Kushner unfortunately became the subject of “fake news,” above all by reporters pushing the absurd idea that his family business had somehow profited by his unpaid position in the Trump administration.

Death in a Revolving Door

Only in February did things start going truly badly for the young presidential adviser.  Having held only an interim top-secret security clearance for more than a year while his background check stalled (reportedly due to fears that he might be manipulated by foreign powers over his family’s finances), he was suddenly downgraded to “secret” by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, considered anything but a “Javanka” ally. Such a functional demotion meant that he suddenly had less access to key documents and crucial information of governing than the White House calligrapher.  In the process, he got pummeled in the media (through no fault of his own, of course).  

President Trump was reportedly “frustrated” by that media browbeating, but no less so by Kushner himself.  According to the New York Times, Trump now viewed his son-in-law “as a liability because of his legal entanglements, the investigations of the Kushner family’s real estate company, and the publicity over having his security clearance downgraded.” It even began to be rumored that the president had privately asked Chief of Staff Kelly to begin the process of pushing not just Kushner but his own daughter out of the White House. Given the president’s well-documented predisposition to turn his back on former loyalists, that proved to be the end of the road.  In Trumpian terms, Kushner quickly found himself not six feet out of power, but six feet under it.

It was with deep regret that Jared Kushner left behind his cozy office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his unfinished masterpiece: peace in the Middle East (and possibly the world). He did, however, retain the Washington residence that the first daughter and he had occupied for $15,000 a month. That humble abode was owned by Chilean mogul Andrónico Luksic, whose mining company happens to be mired in a dispute with the U.S government over billions of dollars (which, it goes without saying, had no bearing on the Kushners’ choice of a dwelling).

In his post-political life, Kushner faces another problem he couldn’t solve while in the White House: by January 2019 the Kushner family organization needs to cough up $1.2 billion to save its flagship New York property from defaulting, a building that, despite Kushner’s well known savvy when it comes to... well, everything, has been losing money since it was purchased for a record $1.8 billion in 2007.  Fortunately, who knows better than the Trump family and by extension the Kushners that, after every possible investor is exhausted, bankruptcy court is always an option.

In the end, Kushner’s White House journey was through a door revolving around the instability of Donald Trump’s judgment.

And so Jared Kushner’s political career ended. Of course, he’ll always have, if not Paris, then Jerusalem and the odd trip to Mexico.

He is survived in the White House by his father-in-law and, for the time being, his wife. Meanwhile, that revolving door continues to spin.