Last weekend, while her father President Trump was wandering around the stage looking longingly at the blossoming friendship between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Vladimir Putin, Ivanka Trump was pressing the flesh at this year’s G-20 summit in Argentina.
But it’s hard not to notice that the president’s favorite female has certainly been taken down a peg since last year’s G20, when Ivanka caused a lot of controversy by sitting in her father’s seat during one of the summit events. She also spoke at a woman’s summit which drew groans and boos.
Not so this year, where the First Daughter was largely silent and stuck mostly to smiling and waving, both things she’s extremely good at, as well as socializing with Bin Salman, another social pariah.
The ornamental quality of this year’s performance, especially as contrasted with last year’s, crystalized something I’ve long been wondering about Ivanka. She’s an adviser to the President who doesn’t advise him, a dignitary to the G20 with no dignity, a working woman with no job, a public official who doesn’t serve the public. And now that she no longer sells her sweatshop crafted namesake clothing, what is it that the president’s daughter is selling?
A google search for “Ivanka Trump G20” provides a fascinating window into what it is that the first daughter is selling (or trying to sell) the American people. Most of the stories include the words “struts” or “glamor.” There’s a story about a $3,000 Chanel bag that Ivanka enjoys and a $3,700 Oscar De la Renta outfit.
One story includes the word “glamorous checked peplum dress.” In fact, absent any public speeches, all of the stories are about her clothes. There are stories of her “power pumps” but there are no stories of bold policy initiatives or brave speeches, because Ivanka doesn’t do those things.
In fact, Ivanka never challenges her father; she merely boosts decisions he’s already made. She didn’t call out her father’s horrific family separation policy until he had already ended it. When asked about her father’s sexual misconduct allegations she replied, “I don’t think that’s a question you’d ask many other daughters.”
She preaches a doctrine thick with “empowerment” and “training for the future” but has nothing to show for it. She loves STEM. She adores criminal justice reform. She talks about the need for affordable childcare.
But nothing ever comes of it. She is to feminism what he father is to success, what the Bachelor franchise is to love: a perfect, perfectly formed, TV-ready mirage.
She has obviously, in her 37 years of privilege, been able to figure out the catchphrases that make one seem like a feminist. She even wrote a book called “Women Who Work: rewriting the rules for success.” But of course, it’s a simulacrum. As someone whose entire success has rested solely on her proximity to her deeply misogynist father and her history running sweatshops, it can’t be anything but a pantomime of wokeness.
The president’s daughter is no feminist; she doesn’t even want to be. That’s the Trump brand: Why be it when you can sell it?
Still, one wonders why Ivanka picked feminism to be her particular brand.
But watching her performance at the G20, I finally realized that Ivanka isn’t really trying to sell feminism after all. It’s the faux feminism that she’s selling — the very Trump brand of wokeness. You don’t have to do all the hard work; you just have to be photographed pretending to on Instagram!
The thing Ivanka is trying to sell us on is the 21-century socialite-house-wife whose primary purpose is a smooth-skinned proximity to power that is neither threatening nor particularly empowering. Ivanka is the perfect fake empowered feminist — all shiny Instagram posts and no particular policy.
Ivanka Trump thinks she wants to govern, but what she really wants is to grow her brand. And like her father, her brand is the reality TV version of a value, amped up and wrung out of any meaning, an elegant shell, a perversion of an otherwise good idea.
That’s what she’s selling: The MAGA woman, wealthy from her father, subservient to her husband and vapid but somehow still projecting an appearance of intelligence.
Maybe she really is her father’s daughter: She’s sure an expert in perverting norms to own the libs.
Molly Jong Fast is the author of two novels and a memoirish. Follow her on Twitter @mollyjongfast