Who knows what Trump, in her heart, was feeling as she delivered these remarks. Either she lacks the self-awareness to understand how unseemly it is for second-generation trust funders to patronize people who are eking out a living, or she figures the rabble is too stupid to notice what she’s doing.
Trump’s grandfather, Fred Trump, made a fortune as a residential real estate developer in the outer boroughs of New York after World War II. He funneled that fortune to her father and his siblings from the time they were children; Donald Trump began receiving $200,000 per year from his dad’s business at the tender age of 3.
In the next generation, it was more of the same. Ivanka and her siblings grew up in baronial luxury in a Midtown tower and on a sprawling Hudson River estate. Prepped at the tony Chapin School and Choate Rosemary Hall, she swanned into the Ivy League before being invited to launch her own jewelry line. She married Jared Kushner, a wealthy mediocrity whose admission to Harvard just happened to follow shortly after his parents pledged $2.5 million to the school.
Inherited wealth is nothing new. But until recently, the daughters and sons of wealth were trained to acknowledge their advantages, not pretend them away. Most Americans, in their hearts, would love to be given one-tenth — one-hundredth! — of the bounty Ivanka Trump has been given. Most Americans, in their hearts, would be delighted to be swaddled at birth in the robes of luxury. And she would know that if she actually traveled the United States, rather than zipping from photo op to vacation resort by private jet and limo.
Most Americans would happily pluck ripe clumps of money from their family trees, if only it were there. Instead, in their hearts, they pray that their next of kin are solvent when they die. No one needs more unpaid medical bills or another underwater mortgage. These folks care about the American Dream because it’s better than poverty, not because it’s better than Easy Street. And they care about opportunity — enough to understand that Ivy League seats reserved for rich kids mean less room for meritorious strivers.
The average Jane and Joe don’t bust their humps because they prefer work to more refined pursuits. They do it because they must, or (a far superior motivation) because they find in work an opportunity to improve themselves, their families and their world as they define it. The opportunity for improvement is what they truly seek, and neither work for work’s sake, nor life on the government dole, can match that sense of purpose and progress.
But where in today’s politics is a robust, credible voice for optimism? Who’s pointing the way to a society of abundant opportunities for improvement? Not the right-veering Republicans, with their catalogue of resentments. And not the left-listing Democrats, with their litany of grievances. With less than a year before the presidential primaries begin, we have two parties of anger and no party of hope.
President Trump feeds on anger. But Democrats still have a chance to pivot toward optimism. There’s no reason a campaign to cut carbon emissions must be a burden equivalent to fighting a world war — but that’s the rhetoric of the Green New Deal. It can be an opportunity to lead the next great era of invention.
There’s no reason a campaign to make higher education more affordable must be pitched as a fight against banks and corporations. No reason justice for all must come at the expense of any. The record of human history clearly demonstrates that health, wealth, education and freedom can rise simultaneously. Abundance begets abundance; investments deliver returns; problems cheerfully faced with determination yield unimagined solutions.
The American Dream is about more than just money. That’s why it can’t be addressed with the dreary language of mere economists. Democrats will do well in 2020 if they speak of hope, of the upside of our national life, of the problems we will solve together. That’s the spirit we all inherit and the legacy we must tend.
Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.