Even a master saleswoman sometimes fails to seal the deal. If Ivanka Trump didn’t learn that lesson before her father became president, she’s learning it now.
“I think it’s a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter if she believes the accusers of her father when he’s affirmatively stated there’s no truth to it,” the elder Trump daughter told NBC News on Sunday. Commentators were quick to note that this is just the reason nepotism laws exist — so administration officials can’t avoid answering tough questions about their boss by pleading the familial Fifth.
But in Ivanka Trump’s case, this is about more than an institutionalized conflict of interest. It’s about the line Trump has been straddling all her life.
Trump has spent her adulthood trying to sell a specific version of feminism where you’re a family woman first and a working one second. Sure, she’s a successful businesswoman, but she stopped running her brand to move to Washington so her husband could serve in a senior role in the administration. She’s ambitious, and she’s a moneymaker, but “the most important job any woman can have is being a mother,” Trump says with a smile in an old campaign ad for her father.
Trump, in other words, wants to market herself as an avatar of empowerment and of homemaking all at once. The problem is, there are only so many heiresses to massive fortunes married to men who possess fortunes of their own. It’s not so easy to be the perfect mother and the perfect professional at the same time when you don’t have the money to hire help for any of those motherly activities, or when the professional ones require long or inflexible hours.
Perhaps that disconnect explains Trump’s woeful record on women’s rights, despite her rhetoric. The only front on which she has made any progress is paid family leave, and critics say her plan is underfunded and unsound. She supported the White House’s crushing of an equal-pay enforcement initiative, and she blessed the tax law that is bound to hurt many of the “women who work” she claims to champion. And, of course, Trump hasn’t said anything at all about the administration’s rollback of rights that aren’t targeted to employed moms (or moms at all), from contraceptive coverage to abortion.
Still, Trump has an easier time pulling off the image of loyal mother who’s also an evangelist for female empowerment than she does the image of loyal daughter who believes in the same ideals. Trump’s conception of modern-day womanhood may be obtuse, or exclusive to the upper-crust, but being a doting mother and a successful entrepreneur is not inherently contradictory. Being both daddy’s little girl and a crusader for women’s rights is — when daddy has been credibly accused of serial assault and boasted of grabbing women by the p—-y.
Hewing to the same traditional roles as she projects in her marriage, Trump has spun a narrative of daughterly duty when it comes to defending her father. It’s why she emphasized her “right as a daughter” in that NBC interview. Of course Trump has a right not to believe the women; the phrase is meaningless. What she’s really saying is that she has an obligation and therefore an excuse. To Trump, that excuse allows her to declare that “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children” when it comes to Roy Moore and still act as though her father, who endorsed Moore and has been accused by at least 19 women of sexual assault, will meet a warm welcome at the pearly gates.
About a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, Ivanka Trump deleted from her Twitter biography the description “passionate advocate for the education and empowerment of women and girls” and replaced it with “wife, mother, sister, daughter.” At least you can’t argue with that.
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