On Jared Kushner’s New After-School Project, The White House Office of American Innovation

Per the New York Post: “Jared Kushner will be announced Monday as the head of the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation, which is being called a strategic consultant SWAT team meant to make government more efficient.”

Nobody even told me the White House Office of American Innovation was hiring. I have a cover letter all ready to go and everything. 

I initially fixated on that bizarre and somewhat vile metaphor of the innovation “SWAT team.” But apparently the “innovation SWAT team”idea  was actually coined in the Obama administration, making the authoritarian cast of Jared’s new after-school project less Trumpian than it sounds, and more like routine neoliberal governance, in the same league as the “innovation czars” and unaccountable economic advisory boards that are business as usual at state and federal government. And obviously there’s nothing very new about “running the government like a great American company” and valuing “efficiencies” and “nimble power centers” and “flexibilities,” and you know Hillary Clinton would have pursued something that at least sounded similarly awful.

But when the Obama administration pursued these sorts of ideas–pursuing “innovation” through semi-privatization of governance–it gave it a much more convincing technological basis borrowed from Silicon Valley, which was part of its appeal (though not to me, obvs). It was also, to give them credit, almost certainly way more competent. I prefer Jared’s inept project because it looks so nakedly, clumsily ideological; from these early reports there’s barely any pretense of meritocracy or “accountability,” and no particular interest in technology at all. They use the wrong business buzzwords, borrowing from Dad’s building industry background. As Trump said in a statement, the government is beset by “congestion… leading to cost overruns and delays.” And then there’s the odd list of initiatives, headlined by the opioid crisis, which Jared is apparently going to tackle with ideas from other real estate tycoons and investment bankers. The meanness and graft that always lurks closely behind “innovation” discourse in government is just so much more out in the open here. I can’t even say the mask is slipping, because it’s not clear they will try to even wear it.

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