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Ivanka, the Perfect Apologist

May 4, 2017

Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka on SNL

Who knows what’s going on behind the preternaturally composed and perfectly made-up mask that is the public face of Ivanka Trump? In some ways, she seems the polar opposite of her father. She’s polished where he is vulgar. She’s smooth where he’s abrasive. She purrs where he brays. She’s articulate where he’s incoherent. She even seems kind of nice, where he just seems mean and vindictive.

Ivanka has fostered the notion that she can act as the brakes on her father’s runaway train, that she alone can be the Trump Whisperer who can tell him when he’s wrong and he will listen to her. But is there any evidence that this is true? A lot of Americans, desperate for any ray of hope that someone can temper the orgy of destruction that Trump has unleashed, seem to have fallen for this idea.

But I’m not buying it, and I’m calling it for the bullshit that I think it is. I think she’s just as venal and mercenary as the rest of the Trumps, but more insidious because it’s all concealed in that chic and exquisitely wrapped package.

The New York Times just published an exhaustive (and rather sympathic) look into Ivanka’s role in her father’s administration to date. The only clear instance the journalists were able to document where Ivanka was able to change Trump’s position on anything was a brief positive mention of Planned Parenthood at one of the Republican debates during the campaign. That tiny victory has, of course, evaporated in his administration’s full-on adoption of the Republican party’s demand for defunding Planned Parenthood. Ivanka simply dodges when questioned about whether she supports abortion rights; she has never publicly taken a position on the issue. According to the NYT, Ivanka is claiming that she helped preserve and increase funding for women’s health in the government budget deal now in Congress, but there is no actual increase and the bill simply keeps spending at current levels. Moreover, there is nothing that would indicate that Ivanka had any particular influence on this.

Here’s what we do know: Ivanka has an office in the West Wing and is now officially part of her father’s administration, albeit in a supposedly unpaid (and very hazily defined) position as an adviser to her father. She evidently can chime in on anything she likes and is frequently included in meetings and social events with important foreign leaders as well as American business and political leaders. This cozy management style is in keeping with the privately-held family business model of the Trump enterprises, which remain extraordinarily opaque to external scrutiny. And, of course, her husband Jared Kushner has been handed a laughably enormous sheaf of portfolios ranging from reforming the VA to bringing about peace in the Middle East.  Basically, Ivanka and Jared seem to be Trump’s most trusted advisers on everything–there appears to be virtually nothing from which they are excluded.

All of this means that there are enormous opportunities for using their positions for self-enrichment, and federal ethics rules governing conflict of interest should be strictly imposed. But like her father, Ivanka has not divested anything and doesn’t plan to, but merely turned day-to-day operations of her business interests to her company’s president, Abigail Klem. According to Bloomberg News, she retains ownership, including the right to approve or veto deals and receive payments. She pays minimal lip service to the idea of complying with the rules, but her actual behavior appears to endorse her father’s position that ethics are for suckers.

Meanwhile, she sat next to Chinese President Xi Jinping at an April 6 dinner at her father’s Mar-a-Lago resort, on the very day that China gave provisional approval for three new trademarks which give her the exclusive right to sell Ivanka Trump merchandise to 1.4 billion people. Tut, tut…pure coincidence, of course! And during the transition, she sat in on a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while her company was working on a deal with a Japanese apparel retailer whose parent company’s largest shareholder is owned by the Japanese government. Nothing to see here, folks.

Still, CBS News reported that according to one fashion analyst, Ivanka Trump’s company saw a 771 percent increase in sales between February 2016 and February 2017. Industry experts call that number “incredible” and “insane.” Well, surely that’s just that brilliant Trump management!

Ivanka’s “brand” plays off her carefully cultivated image as a “working mom” and entrepreneur. Her new book Women Who Work, released yesterday, is part of that self-promotion–a hybrid of feminist self-actualization and inspirational business manuals. As Jennifer Senior’s review of the book points out, the advice she offers isn’t exactly aimed at the stereotypical white female Trump voter, but rather at professional women who aren’t worried about coming up short on the monthly bills. Her women-who-work have “teams”, by which she seems to mean staff and domestic servants. “By the time Trump gets to her primer on maternity leave, she is, consciously or not, addressing an imaginary cohort of upper management and C.E.O.s. Back at work, she expects you to have a team.” But the real purpose of the book is a marketing campaign to reinforce the Ivanka Trump brand. Indeed, the very title is taken from a marketing theme launched on her website in 2014: #womenwhowork. Obviously, launching a book from the White House certainly can’t hurt business.  Ivanka says that profits from the book will go to charity, but as we have learned, Trump charity donations have a way of mysteriously disappearing.

Of the older trio of Trump offspring, Ivanka clearly makes a far more sympathetic apologist for her father than the oleaginous and repellent Donald Junior or poor bumbling Eric. There seems to be no occasion in her young life when she has ever rebelled even mildly against her father. Indeed, none of them seems ever to have uttered a single off-message sentence in public. After all, their father’s money set up all of the kids’ enterprises, and presumably they know which side their trust funds are buttered on.

As HBO’s brilliant satirist John Oliver points out, Ivanka has a remarkable ability to speak while saying nothing at all, which allows her listeners to project whatever they want to hear on her nebulous words.  (Watch his entire segment on Ivanka and Jared here.) Her mission is to humanize and normalize her father to the public, and she teasingly suggests that she can present a different point of view to him on subjects where they disagree. But she very carefully avoids ever revealing what those subjects might be.

But perhaps the best comedic response to Ivanka’s increasingly central White House role was the Saturday Night Live perfume comercial parody: “Complicit”.  Watch it here.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greediest Trump of all? Hmmm, hard to say…


From → Corruption, Politics

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