John Oliver: Why Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are not “moderating influences” on Donald Trump

Image: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo
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On his show broadcast yesterday (April 23), comedian John Oliver put the “popular assumption” of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner as the grown-ups in the Trump administration right to rest.

“Basically if Trump is thinking about pressing a button labeled ’Nuke Earth,’ they will, on behalf of all of us, guide his hand toward the button labeled, ‘Hey… maybe don’t,'” says Oliver. ”They’re like America’s William and Kate, except in this case, both of them are attractive.”

Ivanka now has has an official White House role as “assistant to the president” while Kushner seems to “have a hand in everything,” says Oliver, with a portfolio that includes, among other things: brokering peace in the Middle East, reforming veteran care, tackling the opioid epidemic, and generally shaping America’s foreign policy.

“Jared’s portfolio would be unmanageable for the smartest man on Earth,” says Oliver.

But liberals would be amiss to think that either Ivanka or her husband have any serious amount of influence in the Trump administration, or remotely have the experience and knowledge to assume their political roles.

First of all, Oliver describes how Ivanka’s carefully manicured image as being the “calm, reasonable, indoor-voiced one” is one that she has been groomed to adopt to make sure that she is a good ambassador for the Trump brand.

“She is the exact opposite of her dad. He’s crazy, she’s poised and restrained. And she is impressively on message at all times,” says Oliver. ”That ability to apparently say nothing, and yet consistently support her dad, can actually apply to her political views as well, because the assumption that many of us have that she disagrees with him isn’t actually based on much.”

Oliver brings up an interview with Ivanka on CBS, where she says in response to a question from Gayle King, who asked about a time when she managed to change or soften her father’s position on something: ”I think most of the impact I have, over time, most people will not actually know about.” King went on to surmise to her CBS colleagues that issues on which Ivanka may be able to to sway her dad include climate change, immigration, and “certainly” Planned Parenthood.

“Well that’s convenient, so we should just give her credit when good stuff happens, and then blame others when bad stuff happens. That’s not a description of a political advisor, that’s the description of an Old Testament god,” says Oliver. “And that answer there enables you to project whatever you want onto her based on secondhand rumors and assumptions.”

Oliver highlights the fact that on those policy issues raised by King, Trump has shown no sign of backing down. He has cut funding (paywall) to Planned Parenthood and appointed climate-change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, he notes.

On issues that Ivanka has spoken out enthusiastically on, like childcare and maternity leave, Oliver points out, she touted her father’s commitment to those issues during his campaign, while accusing Hillary Clinton of having nothing on her website pertaining to those policies—which was untrue. “It seems when it comes to lying about easily observable facts, the apple does not fall far from the orange,” Oliver says.

Oliver found a passage from Ivanka’s book, The Trump Card, to support his assertion that she has been deliberately trained to be as “vague and likable”:

“Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true… 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.”

Turning to Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, Oliver compares him to Where’s Waldo: “If you look at photos of Trump’s meetings… he’s in all of them.”

Oliver questions whether Kushner is remotely qualified for his epic portfolio in the White House, pointing to some poor business decisions he made, including the purchase of a building at 666 Fifth Avenue which is struggling to cover its debt payments.

Oliver finds that many of Kushner’s fans also like him for his ability to listen and not talk much. “Just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean that you’re thinking something amazing,” Oliver responds. Others touted Kushner’s academic credentials as a Harvard alumni. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Oliver retorts. “The Unabomber went to Harvard. Ted Cruz went to Harvard.”

Ultimately, says Oliver, ”the main thing qualifying Jared for his position is not so much who he is, but who he isn’t”—namely Steve Bannon, “a man best described as every dark thought humanity has ever had, inhabiting the long dead corpse of a Civil War-era plantation owner, that even his fellow plantation owners called ‘a bit much.'” The two men are reportedly jostling for influence in the White House.

But Oliver denies that he is trying to “eviscerate” either Ivanka or Kushner. “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, because it is dangerous to think of them as a moderating influence, as reassuring as that may feel… If they are the reason that you are sleeping at night, you should probably still be awake.”