Jared Kushner Was My Boss

What I learned about power, real and imagined, from Trump’s ‘senior adviser’ and son-in-law

IfIf you want to understand Jared Kushner, I recommend starting with the dimples. When Jared smiles, his dimples do the work, cleaving his supple cheeks in an unconvincing approximation of contentment. The giveaway isn’t merely that his lips don’t seem to lift properly at the corners but that his eyes dissent. You can learn to force a smile, but getting your eyes to play along is a trickier thing. And Jared’s eyes, flanked by crow’s feet that seem strangely out of place on his otherwise unlined face, are so wounded and tender, a volatile mixture of rage and oceanic hurt, that it can feel somehow indecent to really look at them.

My study of Jared’s face is part of a long-standing effort to figure him out. For six eventful months back in 2012 — long before his carefully calibrated demeanor was drawing comparisons to “a haunted doll” and “an early Westworld robot,” or before the mysteries behind that subdued grimace became one of the key preoccupations of intelligence services around the world — my career depended on the answer.

I first encountered Jared in 2010, when I went to work for the New York Observer, the weekly Manhattan newspaper he’d purchased a few years before, reportedly as part of a crisis PR plan to rebuild his family’s reputation. The young prince of a prominent New Jersey real estate family, Jared was just 29 at the time. He looked even younger, despite the grown-up responsibilities that had been thrust upon him in the wake of a family scandal. In 2005, Jared’s father, the developer and Democratic power broker Charles Kushner, had been sentenced to 16 months in federal prison after being convicted of 18 felony counts of tax fraud, election violations, and witness tampering. The latter charges were the most damaging: Convinced that his family members were cooperating with a government investigation, Charlie had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, secretly videotaped the encounter, and sent the footage to his sister as a warning and as revenge.

Seeking to turn the page, Jared had helped engineer the $1.8 billion purchase of the office tower at 666 Fifth Ave., the most expensive deal for a single property in the country at the time. He’d paid $10 million for the Observer a few months earlier. For a hobbled but tenacious family determined to summit the Everest of Manhattan’s power structure, the Observer was an ideal sherpa.

Sometimes described as the college paper of the city’s elite, the newspaper’s chief remit, as its revered editor, the late Peter Kaplan, put it in his introduction to The Kingdom of New York, a 2009 anthology, was to sketch out “a topography of power, with its Manhattan moats and turrets, its courts in media, politics, [and] society.” Noted for its peach-colored pages studded with pun-filled headlines, it chronicled the cage-match of the city’s unofficial aristocracy with an ironic and winkingly antiquated charm. Among its recurring characters: Jared’s future father-in-law, whom it mostly portrayed as a vulgar interloper. In one 1997 report from the Hamptons, Donald Trump is spotted at a child’s birthday party, “bashing a piñata with a stick” without a blindfold. But ham-handed though it was, Trump’s relentless assault on New York would win out: On the The Kingdom of New York’s dust jacket, his caricature takes center stage, sporting a crown and other regalia, his smallish mouth in mid-harangue, right next to his future rival, Queen Hillary.

TThe Observer’s singular sensibility — big-hearted but wised up, scrappy yet detached, arch and discerning — had shaped my own since well before I was hired by then-editor Kyle Pope to oversee the website. Half a year later, in early 2011, after Elizabeth Spiers replaced Kyle, I became executive editor.

I liked my job. Free to assign and write more or less whatever I wanted, I worked alongside a team of brilliant reporters, many of whom had been recruited by Kaplan, who’d left the paper in 2009. Admittedly, the Observer was no longer at its peak. But we tried. Sometimes I thought of the staff huddled around the last embers of what was once a roaring blaze, a fire Kaplan had himself stoked from the remains of earlier literary bonfires going back to the ’20s.

From the beginning, it had been obvious to everyone that Jared was in over his head. Everyone but Jared maybe, who seemed determined to prove to himself that he was fit for the role. He relished bold action, and the rush of decisiveness, even when his maneuvers were of questionable wisdom. For instance, shortly after taking over, he’d turned the paper from a broadsheet (with the horizontal fold in the middle) into a tabloid format. Then he switched it back to a broadsheet, before going back to tabloid again (this time also changing the color of the newsprint from peach to white) — all within the span of eight years. Each change was executed, it seemed, with utmost confidence, and with minimum regard for how the flux played with his long-suffering advertisers.

Jared seemed to sense that we were motivated by a force he didn’t grasp — a mysterious something that wasn’t money.

What’s more, Jared’s resentment of the editorial team was always palpable. Perhaps it went back to Charlie’s implosion, which the family blamed in part on coverage in the Star-Ledger. The Observer staff was gifted, young, underpaid, and hungry, and Jared seemed to sense that we were motivated by a force he didn’t grasp — a mysterious something that wasn’t money.

Despite all this, I didn’t loathe Jared in the way some of my colleagues did. I was convinced he’d gotten a bad rap, and on occasion I defended him — pointing out that the paper might well have folded if he hadn’t bought it, for instance, and that the media industry was full of dilettante owners with scant respect for journalistic tradition. As condescending and dismissive as Jared was, I took note of those wounded eyes. I imagined what it might be like to have Charlie Kushner as a father, and I felt sorry for him.

When Ivanka gave birth to her first child, in 2011, I decided to give the couple a gift. As one of the few parents on the edit staff, I guess I saw an opportunity to connect with Jared in a way that transcended work. Given the couple’s obscene wealth, I knew I couldn’t afford anything impressive, so I enlisted my wife, an artist, to paint an original watercolor featuring their newborn’s name. Then, another idea: Discovering that @arabellakushner was available on Twitter, I grabbed the account and typed out instructions for changing the password. I sent the package off to the Kushner Co. headquarters at 666 Fifth Ave. via interoffice mail and forgot all about it. (That is, until this week, when I discovered that the original password still worked.)

By the time Elizabeth announced her resignation in July 2012 — she’d been frustrated by Jared’s attempts at editorial meddling and his unwillingness to invest in the institution’s future — I was eager to take over. True, I wasn’t the flashiest choice in town, but I’d spent a decade studying the “kingdom of New York” as a reader and a few years on the staff. I thought I had a pretty good feel for what power was, the lust for it, exercise of it, its uses and misuses.

So when Jared offered me a temporary job running the paper while a search was conducted for Elizabeth’s replacement, I initially turned him down. I didn’t want to be “interim editor.” Here was my chance to step into the octagon myself after years watching from the cheap seats, and I wanted the gig for real. To do the job well, I told him, I needed real authority, the ability to crack the whip, instill a little fear. An interim title would make me a lame duck. “Just make me the editor,” I told him. “If I blow it, you’ll fire me.”

“At the end of the day,” I came to learn, is Jared’s favorite phrase, a mantra he employs so often it might make more sense to call it a nervous tic.

Jared agreed. Elizabeth had been the fourth editor-in-chief since he’d bought the paper five years earlier, and I think even he understood that further turmoil might trigger a stampede of well-connected reporters that would further devalue his asset. I drafted a web post announcing my appointment, sent it to him for approval, and called my wife with the news. Meanwhile, Jared issued his own memo outlining the change, which referred to me as interim editor and promptly found its way into the press.

When I asked him about it, Jared quickly apologized, explaining that somebody must have inadvertently attached the wrong document. “Look, at the end of the day,” he said, forcing a half-smile, “you’re the editor.”

“A“At the end of the day,” I came to learn, is Jared’s favorite phrase, a mantra he employs so often it might make more sense to call it a nervous tic. For most of us, it’s just a way of noting that things take time to unfold. For Jared, it’s an all-purpose rationalization, a statement of faith that the ends can justify just about any means. He said it when defending his father’s sleazy plot against a family member. He said it to dismiss ethical concerns about his White House tenure earlier this year on the Laura Ingraham show. And on countless occasions when we worked together, he said it to me.

Spend enough time riding around in a helicopter, gazing down at whole neighborhoods and picturing luxury co-ops in their place, and maybe you start to see reality as a minor inconvenience. At the end of the day, this is all high-rises. I came to suspect that’s how he looked at the Observer, as a parcel of land he’d bought in a giddy fever without realizing the old building that occupied the space was a cherished landmark.

And yet, despite all this, Jared seemed unable to grasp what everyone else in media knew: that the social capital the newspaper afforded him and his family, still crawling out from under the wreckage of his father’s scandal, was far more valuable than any revenue he would ever wring from it. The truth was, few New Yorkers actually read the paper, and many of those who did got it for free. I always found it strange that I wasn’t privy to sales numbers, but once I convinced a colleague on the business side to share them, I understood why: Newsstand sales had dipped into the three figures.

Even so, the readers that remained were a devoted, wealthy, and influential crew. Jared could blow millions a year funding the business, and the opportunities and clout that would naturally accrue would more than cover the losses. Alternatively, he could flip the Observer to someone who recognized its potential. But Jared was adamant that he didn’t want to sell. He was stubbornly fixated on proving (presumably to his father) that he could actually transform his minuscule media property into a profitable business, either by starving it of funds it or turning it into something else entirely.

As I settled into the editor’s office, Jared seemed supportive. He put me in touch with a good friend of his, Ken Kurson, to use as a sounding board. Ken was a personal finance writer turned GOP political consultant who’d worked in communications for Rudy Giuliani’s consultancy and had ghostwritten the ex-mayor’s memoir. He seemed an odd choice for a consigliere, but he seemed a pleasant enough guy, and, as he often mentioned, he was once in a punk band.

My first one-on-one with Jared was a breakfast meeting at Casa Lever, a Park Avenue power spot with Warhols on the walls and an interior that evoked a Hollywood spaceship. Once we’d ordered, he quickly got to the point, asking me how I proposed to “totally transform” the operation. I threw out a few suggestions: bringing on new columnists, adding a lifestyle section, widening our editorial focus to capture a national online audience. “Yeah, yeah, okay,“ he said, making a face. “I’ve heard those a million times from Elizabeth and everyone else. I want to hear a whole new vision, something nobody’s ever done before.”

To me, the choice seemed clear: Come up with a plan that got him excited enough to invest in the operation, or take my place among the paper’s pallbearers.

I got to work, churning out a succession of strategy memos. I relished the chance to prove that I could succeed where so many had failed — inventing a winning strategy, earning the publisher’s trust, and tossing some kindling onto that dying flame. In one 23-page effort, I vowed to turn the Observer into “Vice for rich people,” which was really just a catchy way of saying that it should be what it had always been.

Even as he was demanding endless blue-sky ideas for monetizing a newspaper that was so routinely described as “perennially money-losing” it may as well have been the tagline, Jared was bleeding the operation dry.

Looking back, I cringe at my increasing desperation as I sought the magic formula — distribution in top hotels, a scheme to build “the Reddit of opinion,” an interactive Wall Street fantasy league — that might strike Jared as a “totally new vision,” without completely extinguishing the swiftly cooling cinder cupped in my hand. Still, such was my faith in the magic of a persuasive argument that I actually thought I could get him to bite. I didn’t yet realize that his demands for a bold new vision were probably just his way of masking his cluelessness about the industry.

Even as he was demanding endless blue-sky ideas for monetizing a newspaper that was so routinely described as “perennially money-losing” it may as well have been the tagline, Jared was bleeding the operation dry. During some fallow periods, our phone bills were ignored so long that our service was disconnected. The pizza place that supplied dinner for our weekly closes eventually cut us off due to nonpayment.

Much as I tried to reassure the staff and put out a good paper, the cubicles around the office were steadily emptying out. People worked at the Observer because it was fun or because it was prestigious or some combination of the two. As both payoffs dwindled in value, they decided it was a stepping stone, and they stepped.

Recruiting replacements wasn’t hard. The problem was getting approval to hire them. Jared never exactly said no to any of my candidates, but he never really said yes, either. Top prospects hung in for months before finally moving on.

As for editorial decisions, Jared mostly left me alone. He clearly entertained the fantasy of playing evil press baron, like his friend and mentor Rupert Murdoch, and repeatedly pressed Kyle and then Elizabeth to slant the paper’s coverage to settle scores or reward friends. But they’d fought him successfully at every turn — or so we thought — and by the time I took over, six years on, he’d largely given up.

But not entirely. He’d often send story ideas my way, and sometimes they were good. A suggestion to cover a popular Manhattan restaurant made sense to me — even if I suspected Jared might be trying to curry favor with the reservationist. Another pitch gave me pause. Jared was eager for us to profile John Rhea, the head of the New York City Housing Authority. “The guy’s getting killed in the press,” he told me. This was dicey territory. Given the family real estate empire, Jared had plenty of reasons to want to do the Bloomberg administration a favor by defending an embattled commissioner. And we obviously couldn’t print a glowing piece about an agency that was failing the city’s poorest residents, especially in a publication aimed at its richest. On the other hand, Rhea was an important figure, plainly worthy of a profile.

It was the hardest call I had to make, but having seen my two predecessors take a confrontational approach — Kyle had called the company “a shitshow” in one memorable staff meeting — and wind up demoralized and frustrated, I tried threading the needle instead.

I asked our real estate editor, Matt Chaban, to look into the idea, and was careful not to suggest an angle or acknowledge our owner’s role. Since Jared had never asked to see a story before publication — I like to think that had he done so, I’d have had the sense to walk — I resolved to print whatever Matt filed. Jared might not like it, but he’d never explicitly demanded a puff piece, nor had I promised one.

Matt dug in. He talked to a variety of sources, and interviewed the chairman for a few hours before filing an impeccably nuanced piece. Until I sat down to write this essay, I never told him where the idea originated.

“I loved the in-depth article and learned a lot from it,” Jared emailed me after it ran. Did the piece benefit him? Indirectly, it probably did. Did I do the right thing? Maybe.

Other critiques I batted down more aggressively. “I can tell you — our print readers probably don’t care about DJ’s or hip chef tv personalities,” Jared wrote me in one email, adding, “I think the paper today was a bit too edgy in a hipster way.” I reminded him that we were also trying to grow our web presence, and that Joshua David Stein’s epic takedown of Guy Fieri (whom he accused, with uncanny prescience, of “using patriotism as a Trojan Horse for his infectious and insidious garbage“), had gotten favorable pickup in the Times and elsewhere.

“You might be right on the chef front!!” Jared replied. “I’m happy to be wrong!”

WWhen Hurricane Sandy sped toward New York a few weeks later, it felt like my relationship with Jared might turn a corner. His emails became unusually encouraging, and I could tell he’d been bitten by the journalism bug. “Take a deep breath,” Jared wrote me as Sandy made its approach. “Have fun with this!!!”

That seemed like an odd way to put it, but I appreciated the sentiment.

He even suggested stories: “We should answer practical questions like where can people eat, shop for supplies, what is open?” he emailed. “Let’s use twitter as well to try and draw in info!!! Let’s have some fun but if we do this write [sic] we could produce a ton of content and recruit a lot of new readers, twitter followers and sources!!!”

Yes, his ideas were pedestrian, but the enthusiasm was new, and it seemed to bode well.

A colleague and I camped in the office as the storm surge hit while virtually everyone else on the staff — along with every freelancer we could rustle up — fanned out across the city and worked the phones. I privately doubted that anyone was going to look to the Observer for perspective amid a crisis of that magnitude, but I was determined to provide it just in case.

Jared praised the effort. “You were pushing it with that headline,” he said — a reference to my bleary-eyed decision to plaster “City to Sandy: Blow Me” across the whole front page — “but I actually like it. It’s ballsy.”

As soon as the floodwaters receded, however, Jared’s enthusiasm for breaking news seemed to fade as well. I still couldn’t get him to fill the open positions, and I’d developed a habit of leaning on our beleaguered bookkeeper personally in order to get freelancers paid.

Jared and me at the Observer holiday party in December 2012. Photo: Paul Bruinooge/Getty Images

At our holiday party, in early December, Jared addressed the staff. He acknowledged “the naysayers,” of course — an all-purpose foil he still likes to invoke as proof that he’s doing something right. Then after expressing some tight-lipped approval for our efforts, he quickly pivoted to the bad news. “At the end of the day, it’s a tough media environment, and we’ve all got to work a little bit smarter and a little bit harder and learn to do more with less…”

I looked around the room and took in the grim faces. This was a party?

Jared concluded by looking forward to a prosperous 2013. “There’s a lot of great energy here,” he said, “and I’m confident that we’re finally on the right track and moving forward.”

The passive-aggressive tone rubbed me the wrong way. We’d all done amazing work under ridiculous circumstances, for which Jared himself bore no small responsibility. I stepped forward and reached for the mic. He looked surprised, but handed it over. I raised a glass and started thanking people. Not just the editors and reporters, and the freelance writers, and the art department and illustrators and Jared himself for “giving us all this amazing opportunity,” but the former staffers, too, and the IT people and the bookkeeper, the sales team, and even the classified department.

I did my best Coach Taylor, with a little George Bailey thrown in for the holidays. And of course, I mentioned the after-party, since the open bar (beer and wine only) ended at 8.

BBack in the office, I decided to make my big move. I’d been working for the same salary since I started at the Observer, and I decided it was time to ask for a raise. To help my case, I presented Jared with a chart showing how unique visitors to our website had nearly doubled since I took over, even as our staff went from 26 to 19. Then I asked Jared for a raise. He told me he’d think about it.

Two weeks later, I strode into our president’s office for a meeting. I was betting on another 20 grand, but I would’ve been satisfied with 10. Jared was on speakerphone, calling from the middle of a ski vacation in Aspen. He said he had some exciting news.

Ken Kurson had just wrapped up campaign season, Jared told me, and he’d agreed to become the editor of the Observer. It seems they’d been batting around the idea for years, and the timing finally felt right. But he wanted me to know I’d done a great job. “You get an A-plus,“ he told me. “I just need someone in that role I can trust. But Ken thinks you’re great, and he’s excited to have you continue on as executive editor.” The truth sunk in slowly: Under the pretext of Ken coaching me, I’d actually been coaching him.

I said I needed to think about it. I knew I could never work for Ken, but I had an annual traffic bonus in my contract. If I walked immediately, I’d never see a dime of it. (It took a month of haggling, but eventually I got it.)

As I descended the open staircase that led from the business offices to the bullpen, several faces turned to look at me. “Holy shit, sorry,” somebody said. I glanced at their screens, which displayed a New York Times headline: “New York Observer Hits Reset Again, Names Ken Kurson Editor.” The item had been posted before I’d even learned the news. I closed the door to my office and read the story. What made it sting all the more was that it had been written by the media columnist David Carr, a friend, whom I’d turned to for advice on a regular basis. Not that I blamed him — a scoop was a scoop. But before heading out to 44th Street to join the team for a smoke, I messaged Carr and persuaded him to add a quote from me to his story. With my voice in the piece, maybe I’d seem a touch less blindsided than I really was. “Hey, tough break,“ he told me. “You’ll be fine.“

OnOn November 10, 2016, the day it finally sank in that Donald Trump was actually going to be the president of the United States, I dashed off an email to Jared. Subject line: “Man, I am pulling for you.”

“Jared, you sure have a lot on your shoulders,” I began. “As you can imagine, I didn’t vote for Trump and I actively campaigned against him. But I really wish you the best. The fate and livelihoods of so many people are in your hands.”

The deferential tone was hard to pull off but I had a higher purpose.

“I am honestly praying you can counterbalance the darker forces that this campaign has unleashed,” I went on. “You’re a smart guy and a good person, and I believe you will do it. I hope so.”

He wrote back a day later. “Thanks Aaron — he will do a great job!”

I tried again.

“I really appreciate the reply,” I wrote. “I can imagine how busy you are. To be clear, I wasn’t talking about the president-elect. I was talking about you. Whether or not you wind up in the cabinet, you will have a lot of influence.”

I brought up his paternal grandparents, Holocaust survivors. “Given their experience, I know you are well attuned to the undercurrents of antisemitism, racism, homophobia and other flavors of hate that have come to the surface during this campaign,” I told him.

“Mr. Trump needs to make a statement addressing this… [It’s] the first real test of his leadership, and it will determine the course of his presidency.”

Mustering my most stirring rhetoric, I concluded, “I am rooting for you and your family to rise to this incredible challenge, an early taste of many responsibilities to come.”

He never replied.

II wasn’t the only one who held out the naive hope that Jared and Ivanka would act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses — naive because, as we now know, Jared played a key role in some of the campaign’s (and later the administration’s) worst moments. There was, for instance, his attendance at the notorious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which representatives from the Kremlin were expected to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his subsequent failure to warn the FBI (a duty he won’t even promise to fulfill in the future). And his mysterious plan to set up a secret communications channel with Russia during the transition. And his habit of failing to fully disclose his contacts with foreign governments. And the glaring conflicts of interest arising from attempts to shore up the struggling family business. And his security clearance, reportedly granted over the objections of intelligence officials. And his company’s alleged mismanagement of its Baltimore apartment complexes. And, of course, his leading role in an administration that has done untold harm to the rule of law, the courts, the economy, working people, refugees, the military, democratic institutions, and the environment.

And then there’s his troubling embrace of Mohammed bin Salman, the murderous Saudi crown prince, a fellow King Joffrey. Did Jared, as was reported last year, really share sensitive U.S. intelligence — including a list of potential rivals — with MBS at a meeting the two men held days before the prince’s purge of Saudi officials deemed insufficiently loyal? (Jared’s lawyer has denied the claim.) Did he know his $100 billion arms deal with the Saudis would help fuel the war in Yemen, which has killed so many innocent civilians? (Asked about it during the Time 100 summit, he replied, “At the end of the day, they want to be able to defend themselves.”) And did he push for a Saudi nuclear deal that is expected to provide a massive windfall for the company that bailed out 666 Fifth Ave.?

And what about the dissident and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, the man murdered and dismembered by a hit team in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, reportedly on MBS’s orders? Was Khashoggi on the enemies list that Jared gave MBS? Did Jared — the architect of Trump’s Mideast policy, a financial supporter of the Israeli settler movement, and a longtime friend to Benjamin Netanyahu, who once slept in Jared’s bedroom — embolden bin Salman’s worst impulses as part of an effort to bolster Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran?

To look into those wounded eyes and see the stirrings of genius is to fall for a simple trick Jared’s been perfecting for years.

It’s not hard to picture my old boss, now a notch more steely-eyed but still somehow boyish, bonding with the crown prince over their shared experiences with pesky journalists. “Believe me, I get it,” he might say, hand to his heart. “I actually used to run a newspaper…”

WWhen U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley resigned unexpectedly last year, she described Jared as “a hidden genius that no one understands.”

Not really. Jared may be guileful, disingenuous, and sneaky, as I discovered first-hand on several occasions. He may have a talent for manipulating the press to his advantage — one he learned, in part, from observing the species up close. But to look into those wounded eyes and see the stirrings of genius is to fall for a simple trick Jared’s been perfecting for years. It’s a trick you can only pull off once you’ve already been admitted to the halls of power, when you have the tailored suit, the fastidious manners, the privileged background, and the discipline to keep things buttoned up. He learned it as his father’s favored son, sitting at the dinner table with a parade of political insiders, business moguls, and world leaders. He honed it further at Harvard, which admitted him despite mediocre grades after a $2.5 million gift from Charlie, and used it to powerful effect after Charlie’s implosion, taking his father’s seat across the conference table from real estate’s most formidable players.

The trick is not complicated. If you look the part and keep your mouth shut, people will occasionally confuse your money with intellect. They will tend to project virtues onto you that you might not really possess. Eventually, you might even come to believe that what they’re seeing is the truth. Never mind that you never made it as a media mogul. (The Observer shuttered its print edition days after Trump won the presidency, following a number of scandals.) Or that your reckless purchase of an office tower nearly ruined your family business. Before you know it, you’ve been placed in charge of criminal justice reform, Mideast peace, American relations with Mexico and China, veterans affairs, and streamlining the federal bureaucracy.

In another age, Jared might have seemed like a perfect Observer character, at least superficially: the privileged heir apparent on the make. But I doubt the idea would have actually survived a pitch meeting. Jared was always a little too blank, too lifeless — as one Twitter wag had it, “the Madame Tussauds version of Jared Kushner.” Although the nominal subject of the Observer was power, it was power of a very particular sort: glamorous, seductive, a little ridiculous. As much as I admired Kaplan’s vision, the unexpected evolution of Trump from perennial buffoon to global scourge has revealed the inadequacy of the Observer’s central conceit. In retrospect, it seems to me that by framing the contest for power as a form of entertainment, the paper failed to capture its dark truth, and at times even helped to obscure it.

Well before Jared took over, an Observer reporter was physically assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, one of the paper’s beloved stock characters, whom it consistently portrayed as a gruff but admirable rogue. Kaplan not only refused to let the reporter write about the experience but also asked him not to talk about it. That Harvey — the bully and alleged sexual predator we’ve all since heard about — didn’t really fit the Observer’s narrative. Neither did Trump’s smug malevolence and gratuitous cruelty, which have emerged with such force in the years since.

I suspect Jared never quite warmed to Kaplan’s vision of power because he knew all along it was spurious. He learned the truth watching his father. Power was not amusing or colorful. It was petty and narrow-minded, not larger than life, but somehow smaller. Power was a compromising videotape of your brother-in-law. An internment camp full of children separated from their parents. A bone saw in a foreign embassy. At the end of the day, it’s simply a tool like any other: a means to an end, and all too often a miserable end in itself.

Medium editor-at-large, with bylines in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and numerous other publications. ¶ aarongell.com

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