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Ivanka Trump, doe-eyed, swan-necked, impeccable of carriage and costume, moves with the poise of a young queen, has her own business empire, knows when not to talk, and can sell without appearing to try. She has her father the President’s ear, a security clearance, and an unpaid position as his special assistant. When asked about herself, she crosses her long slender legs, smiles a friendly smile, and says something appropriate and unrevealing.
People regard her with fascinated awe. Is this what our daughters would be like – this perfectly turned-out vision of femininity—if we had the money and the marble? Ivanka appears to float through the world like a dream princess, protected by more layers of privilege than most of us can even imagine. If the Press Secretary reported that she‘s put away every night in a box lined with tissue paper, we’d almost believe it.
At the Women20 summit in Germany, she was seated onstage close to the German Chancellor. Angela Merkel has never been gorgeous– only authentic, large- hearted, accomplished, and ultimately the most powerful woman in the world. Ivanka was being touted (or more accurately, touting herself) as a champion of working women, a role she says is very important to her. When she mentioned her father’s commitment to helping women thrive, people hissed and booed.
A reporter referred to the audience’s reaction and asked her what she had to say about her father’s well-documented misogny. She answered that she had heard what had been said about him and that the media was perpetuating it. She could only speak from her own experience, she said, about his fairness and encouragement of her goals.
The reporter asked her, Who are you representing? Your father as president? The American people? Or your business?
“Certainly not the latter,” Ivanka answered.
Angela Merkel gave her a hard sideways look that seemed to hold a weary disdain as if to say, We are not fools. It takes more than perfect makeup and smooth platitudes, pretty rich girl, for the rest of us to get here. It takes other than these to accomplish something real and lasting.
Conviction does not appear to be Ivanka’s strong suit. She says she has good intentions, but the fact that she’s unpaid allows her to evade federal rules about financial disclosures and conflicts of interest. At a dinner at Mar a Lago with the Chinese president in April, she accepted from him three exclusive trademarks which grant her a monopoly on the sale of her jewelry, bags and spa services in China. Her concern for working women does not extend to the ones laboring in the Chinese sweat shop that makes her products, where workers are shockingly overworked and underpaid. She’s used official U.S. government channels to hawk her products.
Yet she’s smart, hard working, well educated. According to her friend Chelsea Clinton, “There’s nothing skin-deep about Ivanka. And I think that’s a real tribute to her because certainly anyone as gorgeous as she is could have probably gone quite far being skin-deep.”
She has gone quite far. She is by some accounts richer than her father. Her handsome, Harvard-educated husband is also fabulously wealthy. She’s the mother or three beautiful children, and she now has a position of power and influence at the White House that career politicians can only dream of.
It’s not hard to believe that Ivanka is halfway sincere about her desire to do good in the world — the kind of good that doesn’t require you to decide what you stand for and commit yourself to it no matter what the harm to your self-image or the test to your complacency; the kind for which you have to risk something important.
There would be no reason to expect this kind of conviction from her under ordinary circumstances. Not everyone’s a hero, and she could go on raking in money and looking wonderful as long as the laws of finance and nature allow. But to be taken seriously as an advisor to the President of the United States, one is expected to have a sense of our history, an understanding of our government, and the gravitas that comes from experience or at least knowledge.
Instead, this country sent Ivanka, the First Daughter, personification of glossy material success and physical perfection, to the World Council on Women in Germany. She said nothing there of importance, truth, or depth, and did not appear to realize how jarring her presence and remarks seemed, among a meritocracy of women in a country whose support of its women is encoded in law and culture. America didn’t send a judge, a scientist, a writer, a senator, a journalist. (Quick — name one. Not a movie star. Was is it hard to do?)
It must be very difficult for Donald Trump’s daughter to have vision. Swaddled in the cocoon of so much privilege, she must find it difficult to imagine what the lives of her fellow citizens are like, devoid of the power that great wealth brings. It would feel like looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They are very far away from beautiful Ivanka.
To go back to the German reporter’s question, who is Ivanka Trump representing? Americans also would like to know. Lovely, composed, and endlessly successful, she asks us, both implicitly and explicitly, to trust her. She implies that her influence on the President is beneficent and restraining. Perhaps we should believe that she alone can save the world from her father and make America great again.