On Monday, the Current Occupant announced a new executive department: the White House Office of American Innovation, to be headed by his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Like #45, young Master Kushner has never served in government or the military or worked for anyone other than his father – as a Chicago Tribune op-ed put it, “his entire experience in public administration can be counted on two calendar pages” – but he does possess the singular advantage of sharing a bedroom with the boss’s daughter. Plus, you know, that Russian business.
The Washington Post report reveals that the Son-in-Law-in-Chief has memorized some key phrases from the CorpSpeak lexicon:
“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
(Digression: “The citizens” are not, in fact, government’s “customers.” Citizens are more like government’s shareholders. You could even say we’re the bosses. And there is little empirical evidence that even “great American companies” are necessarily efficient; often they’re ridiculously wasteful. End of digression.)
What most piqued my interest in the Kushner story were the comparisons of the WHO-AI to “a SWAT team of internal consultants.” Why that particular acronym, I wondered?
SWAT unit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. Photo by Jonathan Wiggs via Boston Globe.
It’s not the first time “SWAT” has been deployed in the context of federal government “efficiencies.” Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign called for a “SWAT team” that would “work with agency leaders and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to improve results and outcomes for federal government programs while eliminating waste and inefficiency.” Google, but none of the standard dictionaries, gives a secondary definition for SWAT team: “any group of specialists brought in to solve a difficult or urgent problem." I haven’t been able to determine when this metaphorical usage first became widespread, but Kushner’s description of his new assignment as “an offensive team” gives some insight into its guns-blazing origins. (We’ll set aside the dual meaning of “offensive.”)
The first police SWAT teams were created after the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. The OED’s earliest citation is from the July 19, 1968, issue of Time, in which S.W.A.T. is spelled with periods and explained between parentheses (Special Weapons and Tactics). Elsewhere, the acronym sometimes stood for Special Weapons Assault Team.
In her 2016 book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, legal scholar and former Pentagon counselor Rosa Brooks notes that SWAT teams originally were used “primarily for emergencies such as hostage situations and domestic terror threats.” Over time, SWAT teams proliferated and were increasingly used in routine policing: “There were an estimated three thousand SWAT raids nationwide in 1980; by 2006, the number of annual SWAT raids had jumped to fifty thousand, and by 2012, there were as many as eighty thousand SWAT raids per year.”
“S.W.A.T.” an Aaron Spelling production, ran on ABC in 1975 and 1976. The location of the police department was never specified.
By 2007, SWAT had become a new verb, generally lower case, meaning “to call 9-1-1 and fake an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement.” Swatting made national headlines in 2013, when several Los Angeles celebrities were targeted. (Swatting was one of my words of the week that year.)
Do Kushner and his father-in-law intend for the new White House SWAT team to connote “special weapons and tactics”? Or are they thinking about a different acronym? I posed the question on Twitter and got some entertaining responses:
So Wasn’t Apartheid Terrific? (@mxrk)
Society Without Any Tolerance (@mikepope)
Soon We’ll Abolish Tolerance (@mikepope again)
Sniveling Weasels Abuse Taxdollars (@danmonaghan)
Snowflake Wants A Tyrant (@CityJohn)
And my own suggestions:
Suddenly We’re All Traitors
Sonny Wants a Tradeoff
Sycophant With a Twist
Sealed With a Tweet
For a more serious take on the situation, I recommend reading the long and excellent thread that accompanies this tweet, which references Jared and his wife, the Unelected Surrogate:
I remind you that Jared Kushner does not have an official role. Anti-nepotism rules mean neither one of them ~*really*~ "work" there.— Alexandra Erin (@alexandraerin) March 27, 2017