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: Even if Ivanka has real influence over her father, it's clear from her recent interview that she never intended to use it, unless she was the beneficiary
Being a champion for one woman -- that is, yourself -- doesn't make you a champion for all women, Drexler writes
Since she first hit the political scene, stumping for her father, Ivanka Trump has been positioned as the would-be president’s “conscience”: the bright, reasonable, poised (and female) counter to his wild card, off-the-cuff, often openly misogynistic ways.
Her mere existence seemed to offer proof that much of what Trump said was bluster, for show and for effect. His admiration for her, a successful working woman who championed families, seemed a clear example that here was a man who, despite what he was saying, respected women, listened to them and would stand up for them.
Ivanka was proof that a man, who has had several unhinged moments, could not only surround himself with even-keeled people, but also could literally produce them. A giant jerk can’t raise a daughter like that, can he? She made voters feel safe. And many of them fell for it.
But some nine months into the Trump presidency, Ivanka’s power is waning, her voice almost a whisper, and it’s easy to question whether she ever had any power or voice to begin with. In a new interview with the Financial Times, we learn that she swapped out the beige and mahogany that runs through the rest of the West Wing for an all-white office. Beyond that, what changes has she wrought?
In the lengthy interview with the paper, Ivanka makes an attempt to clarify her position and defend what many have viewed as a shirk of her responsibilities as White House adviser and first daughter. For one thing, she lets us know we can’t very well expect her to stand up to her father in public. As she tells the FT: “To voice dissent publicly would mean I’m not part of the team. When you’re part of a team, you’re part of a team.”
This could imply that Ivanka does, in fact, disagree with many of her father’s policies and positions. (When he’s all but condoning neo-Nazis, how can she not?) And yet devoting yourself so thoroughly to the team could easily be interpreted as buying into what that team stands for – and, without reason to believe otherwise, all of what that team stands for.
Unless, of course, she’s just in it for the power …
Ivanka was, at times, a feminist role model. She was appealing enough to provide the positive spin her father often needed. She inspired many to believe that a woman – a daughter – can have tremendous influence over a man and over a father. We watched her take on a role for which she is entirely unqualified, in a field where she has zero experience. And by expecting she was there to temper her father’s more extreme policies – or that she could – we put aside our fear of a conscience-less White House and put our faith in her.
And yet, Ivanka has not proven she has the sway of a conscience, or even that she’s got the voice of one.
She confirms as much to the FT: “Some people have created unrealistic expectations of what they expect from me,” she says. “That my presence in and of itself would carry so much weight with my father that he would abandon his core values … It’s not going to happen.”
Even if she wanted it to, and it’s hard to be sure about that. After all, she’s got ambitions of her own, and quite possibly limited time to achieve them. Ivanka may be one of history’s most powerful first children, but she’s still no one, politically, without her father, and she knows as much. She needs his support, she needs him in charge, and she has no time to waste. She is not there for us. She is there for her.
One need only look at the fact that Ivanka has never shied away from using her father for personal gain. She went to his alma mater; she joined his company. She used his name to sell shoes and bags. As the FT puts it, Ivanka has “chosen the fame, influence, and fortune that have come from tethering her career to his.” This approach has worked for her in the past.
But she can’t have it both ways. Being a champion for one woman – that is, yourself – doesn’t make you a champion for all women. Even if Ivanka had real sway, it’s clear now she never intended to use it, unless, of course, she was the beneficiary. That’s not a conscience. That’s an ego.