No sooner had Donald Trump been elected president than talk of his daughter Ivanka as the great liberal hope began. In recent months this kind of thinly veiled desperation, has spanned any number of areas, from women’s health and gay rights, to climate change. With Ivanka formally joining the White House as an official government employee, it’s time we saw the Ivanka-as-mitigator narrative for what it is: a fiction.
The move, first reported by the New York Times, is broadly seen as an effort to quell criticism that Ivanka’s informal advisory role put her odds with federal ethics standards. But in a statement to the Times, a Trump spokeswoman emphasized something else – specifically that Ivanka’s new position “affords her increased opportunities to lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public that would not have been available to her previously”.
Trump has long sought to cast his daughter as the better angel of his nature, using her polished, more moderate image to reach beyond his base. Her official role with the White House will lend new credence to this narrative. Don’t be fooled this time. There’s far too much evidence to the contrary.
During the campaign Ivanka used soft-focus feminism to cover for her father’s boorish mistreatment of women, even referring to him as “a feminist” at one point. She also touted a parental leave policy that, while arguably forward-looking when juxtaposed with her father’s overt sexism, didn’t actually offer benefits to parents – just mothers. (In Ivanka’s peculiar brand of feminism, raising children is exclusively women’s work.)
And with every passing day it seems the notion of Ivanka as Trump’s triangulator gets more absurd.
Speaking the day after Trump’s decision to tear up Obama’s clean power plan, Jennifer Granholm, who made renewable energy a top priority during her tenure as the first female governor of Michigan, said: “If she was going to be helpful, yesterday would have been the example of how helpful she was going to be … She did nothing, obviously.”
Ivanka was reportedly looking to carve out “one of her signature issues” as an informal adviser and surrogate to her father. Now months later, we have even less reason to believe it.
Since Trump was elected, Ivanka has done very little to justify her moderate image on climate or anywhere else, even as she’s been showered with praise. When reports surfaced back in February that she and her husband helped kill a proposed executive order to scuttle Obama-era LGBT protections, for instance, the Times ran the story with a glamorous photo of the couple dancing away inauguration night. But it’s unclear how close Trump ever really came to signing an order that in 2017 would likely carry very unfavorable political repercussions.
What is clear is that crediting Ivanka for nebulous progressive “wins” like allegedly stopping homophobic legislation that might have existed allows Trump to throw red meat to his base while preserving the mythic appeal of Ivanka for the disenchanted. This isn’t triangulation as Trump would have us believe – it isn’t even moderation. It’s merely obfuscation.
And we’ve seen it elsewhere too. Back in December, Ivanka met with Al Gore in Trump Tower, and in the months that followed rumors swirled that she and her husband Jared Kushner could be a moderating influence on Trump’s climate change policy. But like everything else she was purportedly going to make Trump more moderate on, her much-hyped influence is nowhere to be seen.
That Trump made no mention of the US formally withdrawing from the Paris agreement (the 2015 agreement between roughly 200 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) in his regressive climate executive action is already being cast yet again as an example of the moderating force of Ivanka.
It shouldn’t be. Trump has already signaled he’ll do everything he can to hamstring America’s ability to follow through on its commitment to the global community of cutting emissions 26% to 28% by 2025. And if Trump’s not formally exiting Paris, it’s probably because he gets that it would destroy US credibility abroad and he would do it, essentially, for nothing – a bad deal, in Trump’s terms.
Jamie Henn, a spokesman for environmental group 350.org, suggested on Wednesday that if Ivanka has something to say about Trump’s record she should do so in public, not tiptoe around behind the scenes. “Until she speaks out against her father’s unconscionable attacks on our air, water and climate she doesn’t deserve any applause from the press or public,” he said. He’s right.
If this is what it looks like for Trump to act with the moderating force of Ivanka in his ear, she’s no moderating force at all.