Donald Trump is almost certainly going to hate Jared Kushner’s memoir. Kushner paints a deferential, laughably airbrushed portrait of his father-in-law, but Breaking History is a paean to Jared’s White House accomplishments, not Trump’s. (There is no we in “I alone can fix it.”)
Which made me wonder, How did Benito Mussolini handle his son-in-law’s memoirs? Mussolini, after all, was a narcissistic, egomaniacal bully who appointed his daughter Edda’s husband, Gian Galeazzo Ciano, to be his foreign minister.
Kushner has a lot in common with Ciano. Both were the pampered sons of wealthy, scruples-free entrepreneurs. Charles Kushner went to prison for tax evasion and witness tampering—he notably hired a prostitute to incriminate his sister’s husband. Ciano’s father, Costanzo, went from the navy to politics and accumulated a great fortune in public office—he didn’t get caught and rewarded himself with the title of count. Both sons-in-law were in their 30s with almost no experience in government when they were catapulted into power, and neither seemed at all inhibited or embarrassed by the fact that they got there through family ties. (Kushner seems to almost believe Trump won the 2016 election on his coattails.)
Mussolini, after all, was a narcissistic, egomaniacal bully who appointed his daughter Edda’s husband, Gian Galeazzo Ciano, to be his foreign minister.
They both craved approval, however. Kushner describes how impressed Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was with Kushner’s draft of a Middle East peace agreement: “MBS thought the plan made a lot of sense and asked how I was able to pull it together, observing that it looked like the work of a hundred McKinsey consultants.”
In 1939, Mussolini went before the Fascist Grand Council of Italy to explain to that supine institution how he would handle a war and brought along Ciano to back him up. Ciano killed. “I, too, made my report,” he wrote in his diary. “And it was greeted with hearty applause.”
Ciano is vain, but Kushner wins hands down in the self-congratulatory contest. “While I had achieved a massive success,” he says about his work on criminal-justice reform, “the rest of the White House was in crisis.”
The main difference is that Ciano, who kept diaries, is a bit more clear-eyed and candid about his father-in-law than young Kushner is. Privately, Ciano didn’t think an alliance with Hitler was a good idea, and once Italy began losing ground to the Allies in Libya, he was downright snarky. “Up to this point Mussolini has procrastinated. He does not like to meet Hitler, burdened by these numerous failures, until they have been at least in part redressed.”
“MBS thought the plan made a lot of sense and asked how I was able to pull it together, observing that it looked like the work of a hundred McKinsey consultants.”
Which brings us to what we can call “the Strongman’s Dilemma.” What is worse for a tyrant: a son-in-law quick to point out mistakes, or a son-in-law who whitewashes even the most egregious misdeeds but takes credit for every glimmer of success? In 1943, Mussolini was overthrown and Ciano sided with the coup plotters. Il Duce fled to form a government in exile in German-held territory, and ordered that his son-in-law be executed.
In January 1944, Ciano was tied to a chair and shot in the back by a firing squad. Mussolini didn’t die until April 1945, first shot near Lake Como, then hanged upside down alongside his mistress, Clara Petacci, in Piazzale Loreto, in Milan.
From his prison cell in Verona, Ciano described Mussolini’s last defenders—and it sounds like Il Duce had Rudy Giulianis of his own. “Within a few days a sham tribunal will make public a sentence which has already been decided by Mussolini under the influence of that circle of prostitutes and white slavers which for some years have plagued Italian political life and brought our country to the brink of the abyss.”
Trump has shown an insatiable lust for ferreting out disloyalty. At a time when Kushner is riding high in book sales and has earned some sympathy for his second thyroid surgery, Trump can only be feeling ill-used. Meanwhile, someone has been spreading the rumor that Kushner was the Trump intimate who tipped off the Justice Department about Trump’s souvenir-like collection of highly sensitive classified documents.
If history, old and recent, is any guide, it’s just a matter of time before Trump turns on Ivanka’s husband. Some good news for Kushner: his father-in-law doesn’t yet have an execution squad at Mar-a-Lago.
To hear Alessandra Stanley reveal more about her story, listen to her on AIR MAIL’s Morning Meeting podcast
Alessandra Stanley is a Co-Editor of Air Mail