“Nepotism,” Eric Trump recently told Forbes, “is kind of a factor of life.”
The 33-year-old businessman was talking about how his father had handed over a multibillion-dollar enterprise to his sons and was making what the magazine dubbed “Surprisingly Candid Thoughts On Nepotism.”
“We might be here because of nepotism, but we’re not still here because of nepotism,” he told Forbes. “You know, if we didn’t do a good job, if we weren’t competent, believe me, we wouldn’t be in this spot.”
Why? Because Eric Trump said his father, the president, “expects people to perform.”
“If they’re not performing, he kind of encourages them to go on their way,” he added. “You know the one thing, Don, Ivanka and I never let him down really in any factor of life. And I think it’s one of the reasons that we’re as innately close as we are.”
Donald Trump, who has made his pro-nepotism thoughts known, entered the White House nearly three months ago and has since been filling federal and personal-business-empire positions with relatives.
Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. are running the Trump Organization while their father runs the country. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who benefited from his own family's business, serves as a senior adviser in the White House. And his daughter, Ivanka, has officially joined the administration as an unpaid employee with an office in the West Wing.
“Can we just call this what it is?” “The View” co-host Sunny Hostin said Wednesday, in discussing the first daughter's new role. “This is pure and simple nepotism. Should she even be in this position? She is the daughter of the president. Why is she in the White House? We didn’t vote for Ivanka Trump.”
Robert Jones, a nepotism expert from Missouri State University, said the way nepotism is perceived varies greatly from one culture to another. In the United States, Jones said, nepotism is widely criticized, while in countries such as China it's just another way to do business.
But one thing remains true around the world, Jones told The Washington Post: People are oftentimes “blind to their own privilege.”
“For most of us who have been given privilege, to some extent we don’t even know it,” Jones told Forbes. “I mean, we’re just not even aware of the opportunities we’re given. And it kind of dawns on us over time if we’ve got our eyes open and are looking for it.”
Jones said people often land in these positions in one of three ways: being opportunistic (taking a job regardless of merit); accepting through coercion; or pursing a job with self-determined purpose (or personal aspirations).
Considering coercion, Jones told The Post: “When your dad's the president and he asks you to do a job for him, it's hard to say no.”
He said self-determined purpose would require a previous interest in the job — before a job offer from the president.
“My general concern,” Jones said about the Trump children, “is that you're getting a group of people who are ill-prepared to perform a job and are unaware that they're unprepared to perform this job.”
When Trump named Kushner, a real estate investor, as a senior adviser, some questioned whether he would be able to skirt laws designed to prevent nepotism.
“We have anti-nepotism laws in the federal government and in lots of state governments, because the practice of hiring relatives undermines public confidence that the government official is actually finding best person for the job,” government ethics expert Kathleen Clark told The Post. “What are the chances that the best person for the job just happens to be a relative, right?
“In addition to the problem of public confidence, hiring a relative also causes problems within the government organization. It can undermine the morale of government officials. It can cause confusion about what the lines of authority are; in other words, the relative may have a particular title, but many may perceive the relative’s role as even more important than the title would suggest.
“It may be very difficult to say no to the president’s son-in-law. It may be very difficult to say, ‘That’s a bad idea’ to the president’s son-in-law, in a way it would be easier to say those things to someone whom the president hired but isn’t related to — someone who’s not the father of his grandchild or grandchildren.”
In the Forbes interview, conducted in February, Eric Trump said that in the past, he and his brother, Donald Jr., would have been “too big of question marks” for their father to trust with his enterprise. But in recent years, he suggested, the brothers have worked to prove themselves.
“I think in so many of the deals that we’ve done,” Eric Trump said, “whether it be kind of all of the golf courses or the wineries or this or that — and the operations of them and hiring for them, the building of these buildings, the financing of these buildings and everything else that we do on a daily basis, I think hopefully we earned our stripes. And I think that’s ultimately why we’re in the seat we’re in.”
It's not the first time the word “nepotism” has been used to describe dealings within the Trump tribe.
During a 2006 interview with Larry King, Trump talked about his decision to fire “The Apprentice's” Carolyn Kepcher and replace her with Ivanka.
“Nepotism,” King said on CNN.
“That's true,” Trump replied.
“Why?” King asked.
“I like nepotism.” Trump said. “I think, you know, a lot of people say 'Oh, nepotism.' Usually these are people without children. But I like nepotism.”
He still does: Last week, the White House announced that Ivanka Trump would join the administration as an unpaid employee. She will serve as an assistant to the president and as an informal adviser without an actual job description.
She is also seeking security clearance, The Post previously reported.
“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the President in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” the first daughter said in a statement following the news. “Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.”
This week, Ivanka Trump told CBS News that her new role is not about promoting her own viewpoints — but that she has no problem pushing back when she disagrees with her father on an issue.
“Where I disagree with my father, he knows it,” she told CBS's Gayle King. “I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and hope that I can be an asset to him and — and make a positive impact. But I respect the fact that he always listens. It’s how he was in business. It’s how he is as president.”
Asked whether she and her husband are “complicit in what is happening” in her father's administration, Ivanka Trump said: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit. I don’t know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I’m doing. So I hope to make a positive impact.
“I don’t know what it means to be complicit — but, you know, I hope time will prove that I have done a good job and much more importantly, that my father’s administration is the success that I know it will be.”
In that same interview, Trump said that since Kushner had helped with the presidential campaign, surely her husband would be able to help his father-in-law's presidency, as well.
“A lot of people would say the same about how could somebody successfully win the presidency who had never been engaged in politics?” she said. “And my father did that, and Jared was instrumental in helping his campaign succeed.”
Tying the comments to her brother's interview with Forbes, ThinkProgress offered the following headline: “Eric and Ivanka Trump deliver spirited defense of nepotism.”