In Ivanka Trump’s first public interview since Inauguration Day, the first daughter reminded us of one of her greatest skills: the ability to say a lot, filling the airwaves with her mellifluous and measured voice, without saying anything substantive at all.
Speaking to CBS News’ Gayle King on Wednesday, Ivanka assured the American people that, in her new and unprecedented role as Assistant to the President, she’ll “weigh in with my father on the issues I feel strongly about.” And by the way, Ivanka and her father agree on “so many issues,” but she makes sure the president “knows where I stand” when they disagree.
Ivanka won’t publicly enumerate where their policy positions diverge, but she “speak[s] up frequently” and is “candid” in private. As for what, exactly, she’ll be doing in her White House role, Ivanka plans to “continue the advocacy work that I was doing in the private sector—advocating for the economic empowerment of women.”
If much of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard Ivanka recite this same script countless times before, both during her father’s campaign and in statements since he took office.
In an interview with CNN’s Gloria Borger last August, for example, Ivanka said that “sometimes” her father listens to her when she suggests he could “probably do with ratcheting back” his rhetoric and rampant id. She promised during her RNC speech that, as president, her father would support women’s issues like closing the gender wage gap and making “quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.”
Did Ivanka make sure her father knew where she stood on the administration’s push to replace Obamacare with Ryancare, which did not include maternity care in standard insurance plans? Who knows, but her father threw his weight behind the plan anyway. Did she tell him, candidly, that she disagreed with his immigration ban? Who knows, but he’s continued to make an aggressive push for it and harangue any federal judge that blocks it.
Meanwhile, life has continued as usual for Ivanka: family trips to the zoo in between meetings with her father and high-ranking public officials.
But when pressed about critics labeling her “complicit” in her father’s illiberal policies, Ivanka furrowed her brow and gazed at the ground, as if pausing to maintain her superhuman composure. Then came the classic Ivanka dodge, a non-answer to top all non-answers: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
She made vague promises during the interview on Wednesday about complying with ethics laws by maintaining ownership of her eponymous fashion brand through a trust and avoiding potential conflicts of interest (“I take a legal document very seriously”), but both Ivanka and her lawyer had already communicated this in previous statements.
Most dumbfounding, though, is her failure to describe what her job will entail beyond advocating for “women’s economic empowerment.” This pitch worked as an inoffensive maxim for selling shoes and handbags. Ivanka was an economically empowered fashion entrepreneur, after all—though we’ll never know if her business was as successful as she proclaimed it to be.
But in the public sector, Ivanka’s advocacy for “women’s economic empowerment” and “education” is meaningless until we have any sense of what she’s doing beyond decorating her Instagram feed with photo opportunities: looking animated in a recent meeting with businesswomen at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where they had a “meaningful discussion on small businesses and access to capital!”; focused while seated next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a “robust discussion centered on workforce development;” and ecstatic at the National Air and Space Museum with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to “celebrate the important role of women and girls in STEM!”
In a sign that Ivanka has less influence on her father’s administration than she is telegraphing, the Air and Space Museum visit occurred shortly after President Trump advanced his federal budget in Congress, including plans to cut funding to the office in NASA that oversees support of STEM education for women and girls.
It is unclear what, if anything, has come from all these meetings, appearances, and “advocacy” work that Ivanka has promoted on social media. Far as we know, Ivanka as unofficial advisor turned assistant to the president is a lot like Ivanka as the head of a fashion brand—all pretty packaging and empty-calorie hashtag activism, with #WomensEconomicEmpowerment taking the place of #WomenWhoWork.