How far Ivanka Trump has come! Only seven years ago she was tweeting about the Trump SoHo spa’s newest candle collection. Last year she was tweeting about how to make it work as an unpaid intern and how excited she was for Juicero. Now she is one of the most powerful, unelected people in the entire world.
The day before her father’s inauguration, Ivanka said it was “inappropriate” to speculate whether, in the absence of Melania Trump, she would become a de facto first lady. But in the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, she has seized an even greater role, combining the informal, behind-the-scenes influence of a first lady with a wide-ranging public portfolio. She is the most powerful Trump in the country beside the president himself. Donald Jr. has kept a low profile, in an unsuccessful attempt to hide the fact that his family is profiting enormously from controlling the White House. Melania, Barron, and Melania’s cyber-bullying campaign have disappeared into the penthouse of Trump Tower. Ivanka, meanwhile, has spent the last 100 days leaning into her nebulous role at the White House. As Anna Merlan rightly warned in Jezebel in November: “Don’t Take Your Eyes Off Ivanka Trump for One Fucking Second.”
But despite her clout within the White House, not to mention the dark cloud of corruption that follows her wherever she goes, Ivanka Trump has largely been able to avoid the worst of the criticism that has been levied at her father and his cronies. In fact, she can count on the likes of Chris Cillizza to come to her defense, with the CNN pundit arguing that it is “poor form” to boo Ivanka for defending her father’s abysmal record on women’s rights. Facing a White House packed with unsavory characters, it is as if the Washington press corp needs to manufacture at least one person who is not so bad. It doesn’t hurt that, as a young woman, Ivanka offers a contrast to the predominant image of Trump, who is constantly surrounded by old white men.
As the power of the Steve wing (Bannon and Miller) of the administration has waned, the wing led by Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner has been in ascendance. In three months time, Ivanka has gone from being an unofficial adviser attending meetings with foreign dignitaries, to an unofficial adviser with an office in the West Wing with security clearance and government-issued communication devices, to an official, unpaid federal employee.
To do all this and not appear too corrupt, Ivanka has sort-of severed ties with her fashion and jewelry line: It has been put into a trust controlled by her in-laws Josh Kushner and Nicole Meyer. Still, she retains ownership, and the line between business and politics has continually been crossed. Earlier this month her company’s application for new trademarks was approved by the Chinese government on the same night that she and Jared ate steak with President Xi Jinping and his wife at Mar-a-Lago. Hmm. And who could forget when White House adviser Kellyanne Conway went on national television to tell the whole world to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff”?
Earlier this week, Axios reported that Ivanka is starting a “massive fund that will benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe,” opening up the potential for exactly the kind of “pay-for-play” corruption that critics of Hillary Clinton alleged was happening at the Clinton Foundation. (The White House claims that the World Bank will manage the fund, but Axios reports that the “World Bank has not 100 percent committed to managing the fund.”)
Despite this extreme shadiness, Ivanka has received highly flattering press coverage. She is at once a feminist, a secret ally of liberals, her father’s better angel, a savvy public official, a mother who loves all the world’s children, and an accomplished businesswoman. Her shapeshifting has as much do with her own machinations—she seems to fall off the face of the planet whenever her father is accused of racism or sexual harassment—as with the press inexplicably giving her the benefit of the doubt.
When she took an official White House role, the “feminist” case was made that Ivanka is “more qualified” than Jared and thus deserves a better title. Quartz wrote that Ivanka’s situation “seems to illustrate a common problem facing working women: men get more of the plum assignments that lead to advancement”—as if Ivanka, a product of pure nepotism, is at the vanguard of women’s rights in the workplace. Meanwhile, she is portrayed as a moderating force on her father, his better half. The president himself has pushed this line, tweeting in February, after Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s line, that his daughter is “a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing!” The strangely self-deprecating implication here is that Trump is a bad person who must be constrained by his own child to not be so awful.
But has Ivanka actually reined in her father’s worst instincts? When Donald Trump failed to push through a terrible health care bill hastily written by a bunch of goblins in a sealed-off room in Congress, Ivanka was skiing with Jared in Aspen. Her guidance was notably absent when her father tried—more than once!—to ban Muslims from entering the country, including desperate Syrian refugees. And when Trump dropped 59 Tomahawk missiles on Syria, with no broader plan to deal with the civil war there, it was reported that Ivanka advised him to do so because she felt sad about seeing the images of dead Syrian babies on TV. (Ivanka pushed back on this narrative, because it made her father look, at best, impulsive.)
Another big myth surrounding Ivanka is that she is using her influence to quietly push through socially progressive policies on child care, the environment, and LGBT rights. So quietly, in fact, that we can barely hear her. When asked by CBS in April why she hasn’t spoken out on issues like gay rights or women’s rights, Ivanka replied, “I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence.” She emphasized that “where I disagree with my father, he knows it, and I express myself with total candor.” Two days later, this point was underscored in a leak to Politico (no points for guessing the leaker) that Ivanka had secret meetings with heads of women’s groups, like Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center, soon after her father’s inauguration. But these meetings haven’t stopped her father from working to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.
Before Trump took office, it was rumored that Ivanka would become the new climate czar. Politico reported in December that she wanted to make climate change one of her “signature issues.” The article went on to state, “If she can pull it off, her advocacy could come as a bit of solace to fearful Americans.” But since then, the administration has enacted a ferociously anti-environmentalist agenda, appointing serial EPA suer Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and rolling back numerous Obama-era climate change regulations. The biggest accomplishment credited to Ivanka and Jared has been convincing Trump to strike language critical of the 2015 Paris climate agreement from an executive order. But as the New Republic’s Emily Atkin wrote, the executive order itself “will basically render the Paris agreement null.”
In early February, Politico reported that Ivanka and Jared led the charge to kill an executive order that would have overturned a 2014 Obama rule that protects employees from anti-LGBT discrimination. (It was unclear if Trump was anywhere close to signing the order.) But a few months later, Trump revoked a sister Obama-era order that would have helped to enforce the anti-LGBT discrimination order, essentially cutting the legs out from under it anyway.
Ivanka’s much-publicized child care plan is likely to come into play soon: It was vaguely alluded to in Trump’s tax plan, hastily released this week. According to the Washington Post, it’s possible that the child care plan will be better than its previous iteration, which was skewed heavily towards wealthy families making more than $100,000 a year. But as a supposed sweetener to a tax plan that would disproportionately reward billionaires like Trump himself, it’s akin to giving “crumbs to working families and cakes to the fortunate few,” as Senator Ron Wyden told Politico. But if past is prologue, Ivanka will get credit for the child care plan, while avoiding all blame for everything else.
Ivanka’s power within the administration is only likely to grow over the next four years. Based on her first 100 days, this is not good news for the country. Ivanka is the kind, gentle face being put on Trump’s administration. It’s important to remember that beneath that perfectly manicured mask it is horror all the way down.