Ivanka Trump is a lot of things. Wife, mother, overenunciator, presidential softener. But also, Ivanka Trump is her father.
A casual observer could point out that Donald and Ivanka are very different people. But they’re both brands. Their cash crop is a curated version of themselves.
Ivanka, like her father, has nothing if she doesn’t have her brand. Ivanka’s brand is soft, placid femininity, working hard in an all-white office all day and then coming home at night in time to post some Instagrams of her mothering her children, with the family’s two nannies conveniently out of frame. Ivanka’s brand is women who work, who do some vague sort of work that doesn’t involve getting dirty or lifting anything or going outside. Ivanka The Brand, a handful of lifestyle bloggers, and a newly lobotomized Megyn Kelly are all drifting toward the same vaguely “empowered” but not actually powerful feminine ideal, insistently pastel in an urgent world, whipped cream floating on a river of bullshit. Ivanka Trump is a stack of year-old women’s magazines in the waiting room of a medical spa, to be thumbed through mindlessly, better if you don’t think about it, while you’re waiting to get botox. Ivanka is a champagne popsicle on Memorial Day.
Donald Trump is not soft, nor is he placid. But he is also a brand, and buying into it requires a similar mindlessness. His brand is loud, cartoon rich man from the 1980s, his disdainful Eastern European model wife in tow. It’s saying what he feels, as though the act of having a feeling and refusing to temper it for public consumption is an act of patriotism, of morality. Trump’s brand conflates a lack of self-control with bravery. While the commander in chief and his daughter may express themselves differently, below the surface they’re similar.
Beyond artifice, the similarities are plentiful.
This week, the AP reported that information about Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing, accessories, and footwear for mid-income basics has quietly disappeared in recent months—which makes it difficult for watchdogs, or investors, or people concerned with whom a top-level presidential adviser is doing business with, to find out how far Ivanka Inc’s tentacles reach. This is a problem because most of Ivanka’s branded Ivankawear is made in China, a country with a fraught relationship with the U.S., a country that could exert sway over the personal finances Ivanka.
Because the Chinese government exerts so much control over businesses there, it’s obvious why this sort of secrecy is problematic. It’s hard to do what’s best for the American people when it might be at odds with what’s best for one’s own bank account. It’s especially hard when it’d be impossible to know whether or not this influence exists. When the AP asked Ivanka’s brand to disclose its suppliers, they declined.
A Trump being secretive about their possible financial conflicts is nothing new.
This all sounds a little bit like how her father refused to release his tax returns during the campaign—how, as a result, much of the Trump empire is still shrouded in deliberate secrecy. It’s reminiscent of how, after Luther Strange lost the republican primary in the Alabama Senate race, Trump went back and deleted his old tweets of support, like a boyfriend caught cheating hastily trying to delete the already-discovered digital trail. We’ve already seen the nudes, Donald.
Like her father, Ivanka Trump is a businessperson. Ivanka is a businesswoman and a White House adviser, there to “soften” the president but not quite enough to change his mind about anything important. It’s possible that her effect is that he occasionally feels a little bad about his policies, whereas if Ivanka weren’t there, he wouldn’t feel bad. She adds a frosting layer of guilt. We all need a guilt-ening influence, I suppose, if that’s what helps us sleep at night.
What’s more likely is that Ivanka either agrees with her father and doesn’t say it publicly, or doesn’t give a shit about what her father is doing, because she’s not a thoughtful person. Either course of action would be out of concern for her brand.
Like her father, Ivanka is not collecting a salary from her job at the White House (her father has been donating his salary to various departments every quarter, in some cases departments that his administration has suggested slashing, which has to feel a little insulting).
Like her father, Ivanka talks to a lot of reporters. “A source familiar with Ivanka’s thinking” has become a phrase that’s widely believed to be so transparent that I wouldn’t be surprised if people dressed like it for Halloween (just dress like Ivanka but add an obvious disguise, a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, a fake mustache).
Like her father, she doesn’t apologize, and doesn’t explain. Trump has still refused to apologize fully for his “grab them by the pussy” comments captured by Access Hollywood cameras. He hasn’t apologized for spending a week shrieking about the NFL when a humanitarian disaster unfolds in Puerto Rico. Or for Charlottesville. Ivanka has never taken responsibility for her inability to sway her father on anything that matters, and has gotten credit for a World Bank fund that she has no daily role in managing.
Like her father, Ivanka is cutthroat. In a newly unearthed interview with Howard Stern, Trump said that Ivanka and her brother tried to edge Tiffany out of her inheritance. In profiles of the favorite daughter, Ivanka is depicted as vindictive, petty, and prone to leaking damaging stories of her White House enemies. She does it quietly; her father does it loudly.
And like her father, after her time in the White House is over, Ivanka will undoubtedly attempt to gather the scraps of her shady empire, sew them together, and carry on as before. As a businesswoman unfettered by the fact that she’s just like her father, a carnival barker, but whispering and in a shift dress.