An absorbing, novelistic, and powerfully affecting work of history and investigative journalism that tracks the unraveling of American democracy.
In American Oligarchs, award-winning investigative journalist Andrea Bernstein tells the story of the Trump and Kushner families like never before. Building on her landmark reporting for the acclaimed podcast Trump, Inc. and The New Yorker, Bernstein brings to light new information about the families’ arrival as immigrants to America, their paths to success, and the business and personal lives of the president and his closest family members. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and more than one hundred thousand pages of documents, American Oligarchs details how the Trump and Kushner dynasties encouraged and profited from a system of corruption, dark money, and influence trading, and reveals the historical turning points and decisions?on taxation, regulation, white-collar crime, and campaign finance laws?that have brought us to where we are today. A new afterword examines how the two families’ transactional politics left America particularly vulnerable to the crises of 2020.
Investigative journalist Bernstein debuts with a fine-grained dual biography chronicling the parallel trajectories of the Kushner and Trump families and the concurrent social and political trends that made their rise to power possible. Opening with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's 2009 wedding ("the joining of two famous real estate dynasties, each braided into the worlds of politics and media and celebrity"), Bernstein then meticulously details the families' American arrivals, documenting the harrowing escape Jared's grandparents made from Poland during the Holocaust, and Ivanka's great-grandfather Friedrich Trump's 1885 journey from Germany to the Canadian Yukon, where his restaurant and brothel became "the origin of the Trump family fortune: selling food, liquor, and sex." Both families entered into the property development industries, took advantage of New Deal era legislation to build vast real estate empires, exploited (and perhaps violated) tax laws and urban renewal programs, and aggressively bought political influence. In the book's most riveting sections, Bernstein details how Jared's father, Charlie, went to prison for breaking campaign finance laws and hiring a prostitute to blackmail his brother-in-law. Bernstein occasionally tips over the line between snark and sincerity (particularly when it comes to Jared Kushner's elocution), but by and large she delivers a tough yet fair-minded analysis of how both families embody the dangers wealth and influence pose to American democracy. Progressives will be equal parts horrified and fascinated by this rigorous account.
The book is well researched and full of facts, but had two issues for me. First is that the Kushner part was very interesting because it is not as well known, but much of the Trump parts were repetitive because they have been covered extensively elsewhere. This made it drag for me and I found myself skimming through yet another description of the Mueller report as an example. Secondly, the tone is negative and exposes a bias on the part of the author. I am no fan of Trump (as I’m sure that anyone that reads the book is not) but the actions make the case for themselves and the extra spin is over the top and actually hurts the book in my opinion. It’s an interesting read, especially for the Kushner and early Trump sections, but I’m not sure that it will appeal to anyone but the true believers and that is a missed opportunity to me.
Heard the author interviewed on radio.
Her writing presents historical facts that are well documented. Reading the history of these families make their actions more understandable. Their future together on an international stage make the book’s title a possible outcome