In the latest episode of the Trump administration mixing public governance with private business, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom chose not to carry Ivanka Trump’s eponymous fashion line for the upcoming year (later followed by Sears and Kmart). This move compelled Kellyanne Conway to tell Fox News viewers — while sitting in front of the official White House seal in the James Brady Briefing Room — to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” violating an ethics rule barring federal employees from using their public position to endorse products. This infraction proved sufficient, rather unexpectedly, to provoke a rebuke from House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), notorious for shirking his responsibility to look into President Trump’s myriad alleged ethics violations. Chaffetz asked the Office of Government Ethics to recommend discipline, while Trump, for his part, is purportedly unperturbed by Conway’s “defending a woman who she thought was being attacked.”
Of course, condoning ethics violations — tacitly or explicitly — is not new behavior for Trump and his administration and, significantly, neither is Ivanka’s close proximity to her father’s public engagements as a candidate and now as an elected official. Glamorous, elegant, and accomplished, Ivanka has been given what amounts to a carte blanche by the electorate for her role in her father’s campaign and administration, the consequences of which pose a far more serious, wide-reaching threat to the well-being of the country than a dip in the Ivanka Trump Collection’s revenues. An ethically responsible public must hold her accountable for the way in which she has enabled bigotry.
One Trump political strategy that has not received attention commensurate with its impact was leveraging his eldest daughter’s support. Ivanka became, in Cosmopolitan’s words, a “character witness” for her father, attracting support from women that the candidate, touting openly sexist rhetoric, struggled to garner. Her speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) was one of the only moments in the campaign (and in the history of Republican conventions) addressing paid leave and affordable child care. It was also a sharp contrast in poise and cogency to much of the event’s caterwauling over the epic decline of the United States and Hillary Clinton’s alleged criminality. Ivanka’s ability to project a “softer side” of her father, which, due to either a character flaw or this side’s nonexistence, Trump himself was unable to showcase, was obviously particularly comforting to those voters who felt Trump should be taken seriously but not literally. (Trump’s immediate attempts to make good on even his most outlandish campaign promises have shown this impression quite inaccurate).
Ivanka offered the gleaming, feminine, polished counterpart to the abrasive image of the man at the top of the ticket. Her unwavering support for her father — even after he bragged about committing sexual violence, not to mention the ample stream of commentary he offered on women’s appearances, emotional stability, his apparent attraction to Ivanka, and any other number of items that seemed to incite him — offered an implicit promise that he couldn’t be as horrific as he seemed. If such a successful, graceful woman would stand by him, there must be something about this man to justify an acceptance of his lewd behavior. Admittedly, it would be a substantial ask to expect Ivanka to publicly critique her own father, but Ivanka has gone beyond the minimum demands of filial loyalty, filling a role traditionally reserved for a candidate’s spouse at the RNC, stumping for her father even after the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked, and eventually sparking widespread media speculation that she would become the “surrogate” first lady.
Following Trump’s election and inauguration, the hope persisted that Ivanka was some type of Donald-whisperer, capable of mitigating her father’s worst temperamental and political excesses. She had done little to confirm this moderate image until it emerged that, allegedly, Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner had helped stymie a draft executive order to roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ persons in the workplace. Admittedly, depending on what the final order might have declared, this move may have protected the well-being of a large number of individuals; however, it is possible to concede this as a small bright spot in a morass of harmful and discriminatory policy. (The religious right, represented by Vice President Mike Pence, is still pushing for similar action). Worth bearing in mind, naturally, is Ivanka’s work in fashion — an industry in which alienating LGBTQ+ consumers represents a poor business decision and a break with past support for equality — and her time spent in generally liberal social circles (perhaps she and her husband would prefer to avert the Mike Pence reception when they attend a showing of Hamilton). More significantly, giving Ivanka credit for the maintenance of this particular Obama-era protection means that we must also recognize her influence in the policies that have caused a majority of Americans to disapprove of her father’s job performance.
Ivanka has been permitted to have her cake and eat it too. She gets credit for her consideration of women’s issues but comparatively minimal criticism for actively supporting the rise to power of a man who has displayed no interest (if not outright antagonism) toward gender equity. She receives praise for avoiding the rollback of basic rights protection but no official condemnation for sitting in on a meeting between her father and Japan’s prime minister as she was finalizing a business deal in Japan, nor particular backlash for purportedly encouraging the selection of a man as her father’s vice president who views the past four decades of progress on reproductive justice and civil rights as an American debacle. She has become a mitigating public relations agent for her father and his regime — encapsulated quite neatly in her posting an image on Twitter of herself with Kushner, dressed in black-tie attire for a gala of soft laughter and champagne toasts, as a crisis roiled American airports in the wake of her father’s move to ban entry into the United States from multiple Muslim-majority countries.
Separate and apart from legitimate concerns about nepotism in the Trump administration, Ivanka’s role specifically as the salve on the nagging concerns felt by the most privileged Americans toward her father, while doing nothing to mitigate the harm exacted upon the marginalized by his policies, deserves more attention. If Ivanka receives credit for a small victory against the prevailing tide of a Trump administration, she must also receive criticism for her role in his rise and rule. As a polity and a citizenry, we must strive for the sophistication to view the troubling implications of her actions with clarity.