Oh No: That Other Time A Super-Rich President Appointed Family Advisers To Top Roles In The White House

REUTERS/Cecil Stoughton /The White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Christopher Bedford Former Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation
Font Size:

Donald Trump is not the first president to get a head start from dad, be worth a billion dollars, or even bring members of his nuclear family into the White House as close advisers. Indeed, another president did all of those things — and not a Founding Father or some forgotten 19th-century bureaucrat, but a television man.

Unsurprisingly, the average consumer of news would not know any of this, because according to Democrats and a lot of talkers in the media, Trump — the rich guy with a rich dad and close familial advisers — is something American politics has never ever seen before. “Unprecedented” is one of the words they like most. Search Google News for “Trump unprecedented,” and you’ll find 1,530,000 results in under a second. This is hardly scientific, but the trend is clear.

And these results are not surprising at all. A knowledge of history is simply not part of the job-description for reporters and commentators. Some can’t even remember the headline they wrote a week before.

But the man who went before is one John F. Kennedy, so darling to our media his family rule was nicknamed “Camelot.”

For a primer, Fortune magazine placed Kennedy’s father, Ambassador Joe Kennedy, in the top 20 richest men in the country. Joe Kennedy, who was also one of the shadiest men in power, turned his money toward his sons’ political success, supporting books and awards and runs. John “Jack” Kennedy lived on a $10 million trust fundnearly $80 million today — and had as much as $1 billion lined up, which he tragically never inherited. Because of this vast wealth, he didn’t take his presidential salary, not unlike Donald Trump. Lacking knowledge of this history, some in the media actually compared Trump to Adolf Hitler for forsaking his executive salary. (RELATED: JFK’s Death, And The Media’s Lie)

The rich kid’s wife, Jackie, was no poor woman herself. Her father had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and after a very public divorce her mother married an heir to America’s storied Standard Oil fortune, securing the financial future of the family, though at least one biographer said his wealth wasn’t extended to his step-daughter.

And when he became president, Jack nominated his 35-year-old brother to join him in the administration as attorney general, keeping him as his closest confidant in the White House over the howls of the press and even his own vice president. “Father” had secured Bobby a few jobs as a Senate committee legal aide — hardly a qualifier for the land’s highest law job — but Bobby’s advice on the campaign trail had been crucial to Jack. “I just wanted to give him a little legal practice before he becomes a lawyer,” Jack joked to family friends, to his brother’s embarrassment. (RELATED: TIME Covers Perfectly Sum Up Media’s Trump Narrative)

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve read countless accounts of power-couple Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Kushner’s family backed his early investments, allowing him to buy a $10 million newspaper at just 25. He and his wife, now the first daughter, have been included in multiple official meetings since Trump was elected, largely based on the advice they gave Trump on the campaign trail. (RELATED: After Royally Screwing Up The Election, The Media Want Control Over Your Facebook News)

Funny enough, Kushner and Ivanka will have a difficult time gaining nomination to any Cabinet posts, as Kennedy’s vice president and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, pushed through anti-nepotism legislation when he took office, at least partially motivated by his hate for Bobby. Politico Magazine published a great piece on the feud, though that history rarely makes it into beat-reporters’ copy. (SHOCK: A Lot Of Reporters Are Flipping Out Over A Trump ‘Incident’ They Don’t Really Understand)

Some reporters, in fairness, note that Trump is neither the first rich man in the Oval Office, nor the first to seek the counsel of family, but that Trump’s international dealings present a “unique conflicts of interest.” This appears to be true, in that previous presidents have not had so many interests in foreign countries, though it certainly doesn’t pose an unprecedented challenge, or to the point, a kind of challenge the executive has never experienced before. George and Martha Washington, for example, owned large amounts of land, held hundreds of slaves, and were among the richest in the new country. While the nature of his wealth and the government’s reach were less broad, the threat business interests, human holdings and state loyalties might post to a delicate republic were massive. (RELATED: The Simple Reasons Americans No Longer Listen To Reporters)

Ironically, if you graduate from George Washington University’s school of journalism, you still might not know this: Last week, the school named for our first president cut American history from the courses required to earn a history degree.

The older our political system gets, the less its students are required to know about it. That’s a larger problem than can be fixed in the average news day, so in the meantime, smart editors would help their reporters avoid any appearance of ignorance and ban the word “unprecedented” from their copy.

Follow Bedford on Twitter