This is a tale of two brothers, a story as old as the gods and as contemporary as Twitter.
The story of Jared and Joshua Kushner is how one family symbolises the division of a nation, casting them in the kind of melodrama that few siblings’ bonds could endure.
It was Saturday, 21st of January when Jared’s every move was streamed live by the world’s media. No surprise there, he was attending the traditional post-inauguration church service for his father-in-law, Donald Trump, in Washington National Cathedral.
All eyes were on this 36-year-old husband of Ivanka Trump; he had been cleared that day to work as one of the president’s closest advisers. President Trump calls Jared his “son”, and his “golden boy”.
Also on Saturday, on the other side of Washington, was Kushner’s little brother, Joshua.
Just one journalist with a mobile phone managed to get a shot of him, but her post on Twitter caused excitement. This 31-year-old was in a more unexpected place — amid a sea of pink hats at the Women’s March to protest against the new Trump presidency, surging up to the White House.
— Jessica Sidman (@jsidman) January 22, 2017
Jared: in a Republican red tie, walking in reverential procession behind President Trump. Joshua: in a cool hooded coat standing in front of a woman with a “Love Trumps Hate” placard.
Jared: accompanying his pragmatically Republican wife. Joshua: whose four-year relationship with the supermodel Karlie Kloss has been deepened by their public support of Hillary Clinton, with Joshua donating $100,000 to the Democratic Party and Kloss posting herself with her ballot paper — “I’m with her” — to her six-million-strong social-media fanbase.
Two tall, dark brothers, with their tall, blonde wives; the toast of New York. They would be almost twin-like if one were not right, one left; one in the old money of bricks and mortar, the other in the new business of technology; one an apologist for the most divisive of Western leaders, the other friends with Taylor Swift and the rest of the glittering liberal elite.
There’s more. Jared, now involved with carrying out his boss’s orders — the immediate dismantling of Obamacare, which Trump has called “a horror”, and a “total catastrophe”. Joshua, whose most meaningful life’s work has been the creation of a tech company to sell and promote a new kind of health insurance dependent upon Obamacare, a company he called Oscar after his and Jared’s great-grandfather.
In refusing to comment on Jared, a spokesman for Joshua has said that, while he was a lifelong Democrat, he “loved his brother and did not want to say anything that might embarrass him”.
Both Kushner boys have photographs of John F Kennedy prominently displayed in their office. Idolising Kennedy signals their political ambitions, their family’s affiliation to the Democratic Party and the identification with a young, dark and handsome politician who, like them, went to Harvard and was propelled by the rivalry of his brothers.
Just 24 hours after being spotted at the Women’s March, on Sunday Joshua was inside the White House. Quite the weekend. Joshua posted just one photo on Instagram, and it was symbolic. He is shoulder to shoulder with his brother, again looking almost identical. They posed in front of a famous White House portrait: John F Kennedy. A shared brotherly dream was a little closer to being realised, if distorted.
If you want to understand the Kushner brothers, you have to understand first the devastating impact of the scandal around their father, Charles.
Charles Kushner is a second-generation immigrant who built a billion-dollar property empire in half a dozen states and once had unfettered access to politicians through millions of dollars of donations to the Democrats.
He was a shining example of the Kushner family motto, handed down through the generations: “Think like an immigrant, act like an immigrant.” Whether Jared has offered this advice to the wall-building Donald is unclear.
All this was left in ruins by a series of tax and campaign financial crimes, which eventually led to Charles being jailed.
Both Jared and Joshua were brought up to succeed Charles in the family business. But those close to the family say that the brothers were marked by their different ages when their father’s scandal hit. Jared was old enough to take the reins of the business, he felt it his duty. Every Sunday Jared would fly to Alabama to visit Charles at the federal prison.
Meanwhile, Joshua was still at Harvard — Charles had taken the precaution of donating heavily to Harvard when his children were in school — shielded from those burdens.
Harvard then was the scene of Mark Zuckerberg (just a year older than Joshua) founding Facebook, and Joshua soon began cutting classes to promote and develop software start-ups. At 25 his investment fund, Thrive, was an early investor in Kickstarter, Spotify and Instagram.
The brothers reportedly remain if not close, then, well, entangled. Jared had invested in Thrive and now has to sell because of his move to the White House. Thrive’s headquarters are in the Puck Building, owned by Kushner Properties.
“People who are different from you, you can learn something from them,” Joshua said in one rare interview. “At least, I think I can.”
Joshua avoids publicity. For a tech maven he has a minimal online presence. He was a key investor in Instagram and remains close to its founder, Kevin Systrom. When Facebook bought Instagram, Thrive was caught up in the media frenzy. Early that morning Joshua went to the office and left a note for each of his four senior colleagues — “Heads down, stay focused, ignore the noise”. Good advice, bro.
Credit: Helen Rumbelow / The Times / The Interview People