As Ivanka Trump’s new book, “Women Who Work,” hits bookstores Tuesday, the first daughter and presidential confidante is portraying herself as a moderating force on her erratic father. According to this narrative, Ivanka Trump, billed as a socially liberal Manhattanite entrepreneur, prods her father away from extremist positions, wielding a quiet and sobering influence, particularly on policies that effect women.
But don’t believe the hype. Even if Trump is a feminist president-whisperer, her father’s policies and appointments don’t bear any fingerprints of such an influence. Instead, they are right in line with Republican anti-feminist orthodoxy.
Trump’s book, which grew out of a branding slogan and accompanying marketing campaign for the first daughter’s eponymous company, was in the works well before her father became president. But this breezy “strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes,” as Jennifer Senor describes it in a scathing review, provokes a hunt for greater meaning within its pages, in light of Trump’s supposedly outsize role in helping to rein in her notoriously and unabashedly misogynist father.
A New York Times profile of Trump that ran Tuesday claims she has an ardent wish “to act as a moderating force in an administration swept into office by nationalist sentiment.” But in addition to her role in the West Wing battles for dominance between the “nationalist” and “globalist” camps, there’s another purported role for her to play: as the feminist tamer of President Trump’s instincts to do the bidding of the religious right.
On that latter front, Ivanka Trump seems to be losing the battle for her father’s ear. In the past week, President Trump has made two new high-level appointments at the Department of Health and Human Services, drawing both appointees from the world of antiabortion politics. As Juliet Eilperin reports, one of these appointees, Teresa Manning, who is now heading up the program that provides family planning services to the poor and uninsured, has said, “of course, contraception doesn’t work,” calling the idea that it prevents conception “preposterous.”
Meanwhile, Trump also fulfilled his promise to the religious right by nominating a Supreme Court justice, Neil M. Gorsuch, who Trump confidently said would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. He defunded the U.N. Population Fund, which provides family planning, maternal health and gender equity programs around the world. He revoked an Obama-era executive order requiring pay equity for the employees of federal government contractors. He has called for defunding Planned Parenthood. His daughter’s response to that was to try (unsuccessfully, it turns out) to strike a deal with the group, to separate its abortion services from its other reproductive and health services.
As Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in reaction to Ivanka Trump’s role in the White House, “you can’t talk about childcare or entrepreneurism and take women off of health-care benefits, deny their access to Planned Parenthood, deny their access to maternity benefits, charge them more for health insurance coverage.”
But President Trump’s actions have thrilled the religious right. That’s why Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and one of the first evangelical Christian leaders to endorse Trump’s presidential candidacy, said last week that in Trump, “evangelicals have found their dream president.”
For Ivanka Trump, though, “women who work” is a slogan and a branding concept, not an effort to actually make working women’s lives better. In the book, she claims to have created a “parent-friendly corporate culture,” describing how she sets “an example for a different kind of corporate culture” by “involving my kids — and spending quality time with them at the office.” That Trump believes bringing her kids to work shows how “parent-friendly” she is actually shows just how out of touch she is with what most working parents’ lives are like.
As the Times reports, Trump was as recently as 2013 “reluctant to grant maternity leave,” telling a prospective employee of her company, “Well, we don’t have maternity leave policy here; I went back to work one week after having my child, so that’s just not something I’m used to.” Indeed, a 2015 Vogue profile reported that Trump jetted to Miami just days after her daughter Arabella was born in 2011 to tour a newly-acquired Trump Organization property, the Doral golf resort. Her own apparel company later implemented a policy of allowing two months of paid leave — after prompting by employees. But her father’s promise to enact paid family leave has gotten lost in the maelstrom of his dysfunctional first months in office.
Trump’s truly underwhelming sway over her father is revealed in the cringe-inducing opening scene in that Times profile. As Trump’s campaign team scrambled in his Trump Tower office to react to the Post’s publication of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump is heard bragging about his propensity to “grab” women ” by the p***y,” Ivanka Trump urged her father to unequivocally apologize.
“As she spoke, Mr. Trump remained unyielding,” the Times recounts. “His daughter’s eyes welled with tears, her face reddened, and she hurried out in frustration.”
For the Trumps, though, branding is everything — even their “reality” show was not that, but a brand. Back when Trump first began promoting her “Women Who Work” campaign in 2015, she told Vogue, “obviously, it benefits the brand. It’s very much in line with our current positioning.” But now that she’s in the White House, it’s much harder to promote a brand that is so visibly at odds with the political reality.