The myth of Ivanka's influence: Liberals built her up as much as "Ivanka voters" did

Are we finally coming to terms with the reality that Ivanka is window dressing for the White House, nothing more?

By Erin Keane

Chief Content Officer

Published June 3, 2017 1:00PM (EDT)

Ivanka Trump   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Ivanka Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ivanka Trump’s best trick is her disappearing move. When the White House makes an announcement that’s bad for her personal brand, like withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, Ivanka is somehow nowhere to be found. It’s a Friday night and she’s observing Shabbat, or, like during the first disastrous Affordable Care Act repeal-and-replace attempt, she’s out of town with her kids on a spring break vacation. And on Thursday, Ivanka, who had been working behind the scenes to convince President Trump not to put his fingers in his ears and sing la-la-la while the environmental dystopias of our summer reading list build momentum around us, celebrated the holiday Shavuot with her husband and kids as her father tuned up the jazz band to play a jaunty funeral tune for the planet.

That Donald Trump didn’t make Ivanka stand behind him in the Rose Garden with a poised smile on her face while he took a whizz all over her alleged values is perhaps the most compelling evidence that the president is capable of caring for someone other than himself. But if liberals and progressives take one thing away from Ivanka’s massive failure to influence the president’s understanding of climate change, it’s that if daddy’s love and esteem for his favorite child has such hard limits, the rest of us are definitely screwed.

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This clumsy overestimation of her own influence — after Trump called Kimberly Guilfoyle to get her take on the Paris agreement, he probably anonymously submitted a photo of a corgi rowing through floodwaters to We Rate Dogs (verdict: “h*ckin scary, 0/10 would not pull out”) — hasn’t put a damper on Ivanka’s champagne popsicle summer just yet, though. Politico reports that while the rest of the world reels from Trump's stunningly ignorant display of chest-thumping, Ivanka and Jared remain sanguine, all things considered.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have taken the defeat in stride, according to two people familiar with their thinking on the issue. Their view of their roles in the White House is that they're playing the long game, helping the president to be successful. And they don't tally their own influence day by day or bill by bill.

(Someone thinks they’re getting that sea wall around Mar-a-Lago!)

What’s instructive here is what “the long game” actually means for Ivanka and Jared, and it has nothing to with you, me, or anyone’s children other than their own kin. What part of “helping Donald Trump be successful” translates into upholding America’s end of an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions? Or for that matter, making sure Americans have access to affordable health care, and women have access to birth control and abortions, and women and minorities receive equal pay for equal work, and LGBT people have civil rights?

Might it now be painfully obvious that the president’s barometer for success has nothing to do with what a person who has no intention of ever voting for him thinks about him, not even for one second?

In the days leading up to and the aftermath of Donald Trump's victory we heard a lot about the "Ivanka Voter" — the suburban women who found the presidential candidate distasteful but admired his daughter first profiled by Anne Helen Petersen in BuzzFeed. In the sober light of June 2017, it looks more and more like those Ivanka Voters used her as a shield just like her father did, and that Donald was their one true Trump love. It's likely that more Democrats than Republicans held high hopes for an allegedly smart and classy and compassionate force to set up shop in the White House, like strategist Rebecca Katz, who told Politico, "With Ivanka, we thought at least we'll always have Paris. But that turned out to be fiction, too.”

I'm a big fan of Ilana Glazer and I applaud her using her platform to call attention to this issue, but “Please tell your dad” is not a plan of action to fight climate science denial and harmful isolationism, let alone the nasty mix of ego and petulance that reportedly helped Trump double down on his resolve here. But when it comes to Ivanka wishcasting, Katz and Glazer were hardly alone out there. Hate to say I told you so to the very well-meaning people I know who clung to an Ivanka the Stealth-Liberal Savior narrative, but two months ago I pointed out the disastrous implications of waiting around for Ivanka and Jared to inject their so-called moderating influence into the bottomless breadsticks basket of the apocalypse that is her father’s administration:

. . . liberals and progressives shouldn’t make the mistake of mistaking “the Democrats” for actual Democrats — Ivanka isn’t in the White House to play Daddy Whisperer on behalf of anyone but herself. She’s there to shore up her own power, and Jared’s, in whatever future form it will take.

Here's a scary long game for Ivanka and Jared and their designer knock-off vision of Camelot that just could stretch past the next four years and the four years after that: If Jared could get Pussy-Grabbin’ Donald elected, what could he do with Poised, Polished, Parental Leave-Passing Ivanka?

Ivanka emerged from her Shavuot observance with no remark about the Paris agreement, but plenty of empty platitudes about Pride month.

The scathing replies show a near-universal level of personal loathing and frustration levied at Ivanka that I had yet to see, which means maybe the gloves are finally off when it comes to the First Lady Daughter. Ivanka and Jared will reportedly evaluate every six months whether they will stay in Washington and or return to New York to keep exploiting funding loopholes to build luxury buildings, dragging Section 8 tenants to court and plundering Cuban culture for jewelry designs as the president considers rolling back Obama's progress on Cuba-U.S. relations, which no amount of paste bangles and necklaces will be able to stop. Let us hope that Ivanka does what she does best and disappears, this time back to Manhattan. With those two gone, there will be no more silly false hopes to distract from the three and a half years of work ahead.

By Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Chief Content Officer. She is also on faculty at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University and her memoir in essays, "Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me," was named one of NPR's Books We Loved In 2022.

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