Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Peggy Drexler: How much pull could we expect Ivanka Trump to have with a man who refers to himself as her "Daddy"?
Drexler: By parading her in this way, Trump not only risks people not taking her, or women in general, seriously -- he does the same to himself.
“Daddy, can I go with you?”
That’s the question President Trump says his 35-year-old daughter, Ivanka, posed to him before his trip this week to North Dakota, where he talked to a crowd about tax reform. “Yes,” he says he told her, “you can.”
With that introduction, little Ivanka took the stage.
Among the many confounding aspects of the Trump presidency has been the role of Ivanka, his elder, and clearly favored, daughter. (When’s the last time you heard him talk about Tiffany, his daughter with ex-wife Marla Maples, never mind trot her out before a crowd of voters?) Ivanka and her husband are official White House advisors – and two of the President’s closest.
Ivanka Trump presents herself on social media and elsewhere as socially progressive. And she has been pegged by many as a (notably female) counter to Trump’s more openly conservative stances on everything from immigration and national security to, yes, women.
But whether she’s actually succeeded in pulling her father away from the strongest impulses of the right remains up for debate. This was perhaps never more clearly seen than in her father’s bumbling post-Charlottesville attack statements. After all, if ever there was a time for Trump’s Jewish daughter to sway her father to moderation, it was then. Instead, he chose to defend the “good” people among the white supremacist crowd.
But then, how much pull could we actually expect her to have with a man who refers to himself as her “Daddy?” The moniker, used in relation to a person on one’s senior staff, is unprofessional at best, demeaning and infantilizing at worst.
Trump is known for off-the-cuff, ill-worded remarks, even when it comes to his daughter. (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her,” he declared in 2016.) And if he does, in fact, view her as his eternal little girl in some way, it wouldn’t be all that uncommon among fathers, even the most evolved of whom can have a hard time seeing their girls as women.
One could argue that sometimes, “Daddy” is just a name, a term of endearment – not an indication of some perceived immaturity.
The difference, of course, is that Trump has made his little girl one of the more powerful women in Washington, at least by title. When you do that, you don’t get to bring your family nicknames, especially if they can be read as juvenile, onto the national stage.
The Trumps don’t have the luxury of not being examined. Having a Commander in Chief refer to himself as the “Daddy” of a 35-year-old woman, having him assert that she – one of his most important advisors – pleadingly called him that as she asked be taken along on a trip, is off-putting to say the least.
We don’t know how she felt about being a character in his “Daddy” story – many daughters would be mortified. But by parading her in this way, he not only risks people not taking her, or women in general, seriously – he does the same to himself. Behind every powerful woman is her … daddy? What a great message to be sending to our young girls. Daddy-in-Chief? Not comforting.
To be fair, Ivanka has assumed a role that, while not uncommon between generations of powerful people, is far more common between men and their adult sons. Consequently, there is an element of progress, and progressiveness, in all of this, deep down.
And, as she has shown in her ability to find herself in the presence of world leaders – “popping in” on meetings with congressional leaders to push her child tax credit, as she did Wednesday to GOP leaders’ reported annoyance – she is not without an agenda, and the will to see it fulfilled.
The catch-22 for Ivanka, of course, is that her ability to make change is both enabled, and threatened, by her father. Or, that is, her daddy. Can she overcome? It’s a tough job for a little girl.