Ahead of US president Donald Trump’s inauguration, there was plenty of handwringing about the potential long-term impact the oft-bankrupt reality show star and political neophyte would have on the US’s democratic systems and the global image of the world’s largest economy.
It’s been less than two months, and things may already be worse than expected. The Trump administration appears to be systematically shredding whatever moral high ground the US may have had, including the notion that the US is committed to fighting corruption and protecting global human rights.
Let’s just look at what happened on Monday (March 13).
First, a deal. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s vaguely defined position at the White House appears to include big footing US secretary of state Rex Tillerson by taking meetings, for example, with Mexico’s foreign minster that Tillerson isn’t invited to.
When he joined the White House, Kushner parked his ownership stake in 666 Fifth Avenue—a luxury building in Manhattan—in a trust managed by his mother, Seryl Beth Kushner. That trust could soon be $400 million richer, Bloomberg reported on Monday, thanks to what’s been called a “sweetheart deal” with Chinese Communist Party-linked firm Anbang Insurance Group, that excuses a mountain of debt while valuing the stake aggressively.
The deal may also tie the White House to China’s oppressive authoritarian dictatorship.
Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, was the husband of the granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, China’s top leader in the 1980s and 1990s. Chen Xiaolu, the son of a prominent People’s Liberation Army official, sat on the company’s board of directors when it was founded in 2004. At the very least, Anbang’s complicated shareholding structure makes it impossible to know exactly who the Kushners’ new partners may be.
The deal also leaves the impression that the Kushners are profiting from their proximity to the White House, and raises questions about what the Trump administration may owe Anbang, and potentially the Communist Party, in return. Jared Kushner reportedly met with Wu a week after the US election to discuss the deal over $2,100 bottles of wine.
“Obviously the fact that Jared Kushner is a Trump insider certainly makes it even more appealing to Anbang as a way of generally trying to curry favor with the Trump Administration,” says a former member of US president George W. Bush’s National Security Council, who focused on Asia while serving on the council.
The whole thing makes the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent crackdown on US companies’ hires of Chinese “princelings,” the sons and daughters of connected Communist Party officials, seem like part of a very different and now somewhat laughable era. The SEC actions levied huge fines on companies that had hired inexperienced hands in low-level positions to win Chinese government business.
In the Anbang deal, the mother of the US president’s son-in-law stands to make millions.
That’s not all. Foreign Policy reported on March 13 that the White House plans to reduce by 50% its contributions to the United Nations, pulling billions of dollars away from funding of global endeavors ranging from peacekeeping to vaccinations to caring for refugees. And a US government agency said the same day that a Trump-backed bill to replace his predecessor’s landmark health care act would leave 24 million uninsured, while raising premiums by 15%.
Meanwhile, asked for Trump’s reaction to US congressman Steve King’s recent racist remarks, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he’d have to “get back to” reporters after checking with the president—leaving the impression that Trump doesn’t denounce them outright. And Canada’s “Girl Guides,” the female scouting group, said it would suspend all field trips to the US, out of concern that some members might be stopped by US immigration.
In the wake of Trump’s draconian immigration crackdown, constitutionally questionable travel ban, ongoing business conflicts, frequent lies, and wealthy, anti-government cabinet, today’s events are just par for the course. But they’re a clear reminder of just how much things have changed in America in less than two months.
Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated the increase in insurance premiums as 24% instead of 15%.