But that last part proves to be wrong once your parent actually wins the election. There is no preparation for suddenly being required to tell agents where you’re going and with whom. For the agents trailing you every day, every night. Nor can it ever really feel normal to have your life scrutinized and written about in stunning detail. In short, it’s a shock to the system.
Some of us were still children or adolescents when an election changed our lives forever. Some of us were adults, already in our 20s. Regardless, we were still referred to in infantilizing ways. We were “first daughters” or “first sons” or simply “the children.” Those who were younger — Chelsea Clinton, Malia and Sasha Obama, Barron Trump — have been for the most part graced with an unwritten rule that young children of a president should be left alone. That isn’t always honored, however.
There were snarky comments about Chelsea Clinton’s appearance early on in Bill Clinton’s presidency. Her parents, in effect, said, “Back off our child,” and the press did. Then there was the woman who publicly blasted Sasha and Malia Obama in November 2014 for their casual mode of dress for the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon at the White House. I wrote a piece on my website standing up for them; it got the attention of Michelle Obama, who sent me a beautiful note. And to be clear, no matter what I think of President Trump, if anyone attacked Barron publicly, I would do the same.
Jenna and Barbara Bush were 19 when they were busted for underage drinking, which of course was splashed across the news. Maybe the viewpoint was that they fell into a sort of no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood, so they were fair game. Once again, they were only 19. They were publicly excoriated for pretty typical teenage behavior.
I was 28 when my father was elected president. I chose to be part of the antinuclear movement in the most strident and public way — at rallies and demonstrations. I put myself on the front lines, and the media had a field day. I have no one to blame but myself. I could have supported that movement in a more dignified way, but I didn’t.
We are now, however, in uncharted territory. The adult children of the current president have put themselves on the front lines in a different way — one the Founding Fathers would never have endorsed. By taking a formal position in the White House as an adviser to her father, Ivanka Trump has flouted long-standing tradition against nepotism. Donald Trump Jr.’s role as an informal adviser to the president and as a surrogate for him on television and social media erases the line that once set presidents apart from their family members.
Now we are beginning to see how wise it was for past administrations to observe those conventions, and how a White House can be damaged by the decision to flout them. The Trumps are sinking into the consequences of their choices.
Dubious decisions to provide security clearances for Ivanka Trump and her husband and fellow White House adviser, Jared Kushner, are being revealed. And The Post reported last week that House Democrats are contemplating an investigation into the possible intersection of Ivanka Trump’s private financial interests and her White House service. Democrats are wary of pursuing this legitimate line of inquiry, though, because the “optics” of grilling a president’s daughter on Capitol Hill might not be good.
The president has reportedly made clear that questioning his children would be “crossing a line.” But he’s the one who moved the line. Investigating the president’s adult children, or even criticizing them, might risk enabling the Trumps to play the victim card. But the real victim in this is America. Dictatorships rely in part on family-rule; democracies do not.
Hopefully a new occupant of the Oval Office will restore the informal protocols regarding the children of presidents. This administration has been selectively chipping away at our democracy and the ways in which we have, traditionally, kept it intact. The only way they succeed in that is if no one stops them.