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Meet Donald Trump’s ultimate fixer: his son-in-law

Jared Kushner, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, is now a powerful figure in US politics.

In October 2016, the New York Observer asked a panel of real-estate moguls, including the paper’s proprietor, Jared Kushner, a simple question: Hillary or Donald? Kushner, who had married Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka in 2009, responded with just two words – “Family first.” Now he has been named as a senior adviser to Trump, the incoming president of the United States.

As the candidate’s son-in-law, Kushner was a rare constant presence in the Trump campaign. On election night, after it became clear that Hillary Clinton would not win the White House, it was Kushner who took over his father-in-law’s mobile phone to screen the calls coming in for the new president-elect.

Jared Kushner was born in 1981 in New Jersey, the son of the real-estate developer and Democratic Party donor Charles Kushner. He went on to get a degree in sociology from Harvard in 2003. The investigative journalist Daniel Golden, in his 2006 book The Price of Admission, links a $2.5m donation that Charles Kushner made to Harvard University in 1998 with the acceptance of his son there the following year. Golden quotes a former official from Kushner’s school saying that his grades weren’t good enough for the Ivy League institution. (A spokeswoman for Kushner has denied this allegation.)

While at Harvard, Kushner made money buying and selling buildings, supported by his family’s fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200m. When he was 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10m, a move that helped him forge friendships with the likes of Rupert Murdoch. The paper’s print edition ceased production in November 2016.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. He served part of his two-year sentence in a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, where his wife and son visited him every week.

Jared Kushner’s favourite book is Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the hero takes revenge on the enemies who wrongfully imprisoned him. For Kushner, it was the New Jersey governor Chris Christie whom he had in his sights. As a state attorney, Christie had prosecuted Kushner’s father. In December 2016, Christie was ousted as head of Trump’s transition team, reportedly at Kushner’s instigation.

Kushner practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump converted before their wedding. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Kushner and his wife, who have three children, keep the Sabbath, although Kushner broke this during the campaign, attending a crisis meeting at Trump Tower on a Saturday when an audio tape emerged of Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy”.

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, has been accused of allowing the website to run anti-Semitic articles. After allegations of anti-Semitism were made against Trump, Kushner wrote that his father-in-law was “an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife”.

This support for Trump has come at a personal cost to Kushner. Friends from his liberal New York set have turned against him. In an interview with Forbes in December, he called this process an “exfoliation”. Kushner has said that going to rallies and meeting “ordinary Americans” helped him see Donald Trump’s appeal. At one rally, Trump spoke of his son-in-law’s new-found enthusiasm: “I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate.”

“Soft-spoken” is how Kushner is usually described, although a New York magazine profile claims that “his voice is just literally soft”, and sources say that his whispering conceals an aggressive manner. He is pale, slight and tall – a 2015 Vogue article said that both Kushner and his wife have “a kind of otherworldly, almost alien attractiveness, as if they’ve come from the future”.

In one sense, Kushner is the future. He is now a powerful figure in US politics, having met Boris Johnson, opened lines of communication with Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel and been instrumental in several Wall Street appointments to Trump’s cabinet.

Kushner and Ivanka are moving with their children to a $5.6m mansion in Washington, DC, so that he can work at the White House. It has been suggested that his new role contravenes a 1967 US federal law against nepotism in public appointments, but Kushner has said he will forgo a salary and is “committed to complying with federal ethics law”. Whether or not this law – originally passed in part because John F Kennedy nominated his brother Robert as attorney general – will prove to be an impediment remains to be seen.

What is certain is that Kushner’s fortune is built on his family’s real-estate empire, and now he has a job serving his father-in-law. Nepotism or not, his rise is a triumph of “family first”. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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