"I am not a misogynist": Ivanka's testimony shows how the Trumps exploit sexism to defraud people

Father and daughter know how to sniff out people who believe gender stereotypes and use that against them

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published November 10, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

Ivanka Trump, daughter of former US President Donald Trump, returns after a break in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, at the New York State Supreme Court in New York City on November 8, 2023. (ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump, daughter of former US President Donald Trump, returns after a break in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, at the New York State Supreme Court in New York City on November 8, 2023. (ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

"Ivanka Trump was cordial, she was disciplined, she was controlled, and she was very courteous," New York Attorney General Letitia James told reporters after Donald Trump's eldest daughter testified in a fraud case against her father's company on Wednesday. "But her testimony raises questions with regards to its credibility," James said of Ivanka Trump, arguing that "the documentary evidence" shows Trump's eldest daughter was far more involved with her father's scheme to defraud banks and tax assessors than her testimony let on. 

James is focused, as she should be, on the voluminous evidence that the Trump Organization spent decades falsifying their books in order to cheat investors and taxpayers out of their money. But what struck me about Ivanka Trump's subdued time on the stand — which was heavily contrasted with her father's hours of lying and tantrum-throwing from Monday — was how much their court strategy resembles the same tactics they used to initially defraud lenders over the years they were in business together. 

As Dan Alexander at Forbes described last month, the Trumps had a system for bamboozling investors, lenders, journalists, and anyone else they were trying to manipulate for gain. Donald would do the initial pitch, employing his usual bombast and braggadocio while telling ridiculous tales of his allegedly fabulous wealth. Then, just as the targets were in danger of eyestrain from the rolling, Ivanka would join, full of bubbly but soothing energy. Next to her father, Ivanka seemed smart, kind, and capable. Which was all an illusion, of course. 

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The whole performance relies heavily on gender stereotypes. It's the common trope of the loud-mouthed man kept in check by a stable and honest woman. Typically, the combo is a literal married couple, especially in the world of sitcoms: Archie and Edith, Fred and Wilma, Homer and Marge, etc. The loutish man becomes more sympathetic when paired with a responsible woman. Audiences are meant to think, "How bad can he be, with her around to keep him in line?"

Next to her father, Ivanka seemed smart, kind, and capable. Which was all an illusion, of course. 

In reality, Ivanka was in on the con, as the Forbes journalists figured out by checking her claims next to the real world numbers. The sitcom couple routine seems to have worked, however, on investors who were snookered by the Trumps. It also works to dupe Trump supporters, who frequently point to Ivanka's alleged level-headed sincerity as proof that her father ain't so bad. It doesn't matter that she's a bad actress. These stereotypes are so ingrained in people that they don't need good fakery to believe. 

However, the sitcom marriage schtick between Donald and Ivanka Trump does not seem like it will work on Judge Arthur Engoron, who has already ruled that the Trump Organization is guilty of fraud. He is hearing this case largely to determine how severe the punishment will be. Importantly, Engoron has already called out Trump's team for employing sexism in their efforts to manipulate this case and public opinion around it. 

The big issue has been the way Donald Trump zeroed in on Engoron's clerk, who sits by his side during the trial and helps with court management, which requires passing notes. It's boring clerical stuff, but since the clerk is female, Trump decided she was a perfect outlet for his rage. He started posting lies about her on social media, painting her as a sinister mastermind controlling the judge and inventing elaborate sexual fantasies about her involving Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

None of this, I suspect, was strategic. Trump's behavior makes sense if one remembers that he is bored easily and has impulse control problems. He was irritable, she was sitting in front of him, so he decided to relieve his boredom by toying with a new victim. (This tracks with what came out in court about Trump's motivations in raping E. Jean Carroll, as well.) The judge had to slap a gag order on Trump to get him to lay off this woman.

It hardly mattered, however, because Trump's lizard brain misogyny is shared by his base supporters, who immediately joined the vicious dogpile aimed at a woman, who was chosen for literally no other reason than she was visible to Trump when he was in a bad mood. Right-wing media outlets like Breitbart have been hyping this conspiracy theory that Trump literally invented out of thin air. Then Trump's lawyers pushed the lie in court, falsely accusing the clerk of being a secret mastermind. We can know for a fact that they're lying because they know what law clerks do. As Engoron himself noted, "I think there's a bit of misogyny in you referring to my female principal law clerk."

The sitcom marriage schtick between Donald and Ivanka Trump does not seem like it will work on Judge Arthur Engoron.

Of course, Trump's lawyers pretended to be outraged. "I am not a misogynist," lawyer Chris Kise claimed, citing his marriage to a woman as evidence, a silly gambit that surely no one believes. (If a wedding ring prevented misogyny, we'd have no domestic violence in our culture.) Trump's female lawyer, Alina Habba, argued her gender prevents her from being a misogynist. Because he was not born yesterday, Engoron is unlikely to believe that being female is an all-purpose preventative from buying into gender stereotypes, however. 

The whole point of this full-scale attack on the clerk is to tickle the misogynist impulses of the Trump base, so that they donate more money to the campaign funds — which are also paying Trump's legal bills. It's a continuation of Trump's history of using sexism to perpetuate fraud, though this time it's on willing victims who are happy to pay money to hear more dumb lies about the allegedly all-powerful witches who are plotting against Dear Leader. Now even Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., is shamelessly fund-raising off the lies about this law clerk.

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Again, she was chosen simply because of where she sits! It's reminiscent of the defamation of two randomly chosen female election workers in Georgia, who were cast as secret leaders of a plot to steal the election in a conspiracy theory that is now part of the evidence in the criminal case against Trump in Georgia. This is what Trump does: Indiscriminately pick women to victimize to entertain himself. Now he's got a machine of propagandists who will reliably join in. 

But it's not just women who get abused with ugly gender stereotypes by Trump and his minions. The sexual weirdness is now being leveled at Engoron himself. Trump reposted a story from the far-right disinformation-heavy site Gateway Pundit, accusing Engoron of "posting half-naked photos of himself on an alumni newsletter he oversees." The pictures are included, even as readers are instructed to believe they're pornographic in nature. (They're not, just torso pics.) It's not clear they are of Engoron or what the outrage is supposed to be about. Gateway Pundit claims, "These images, intended to flaunt muscle gains, instead cast a shadow of doubt over the judge’s judgment." 

But of course, no one actually believes that. It's about painting Engoron as effeminate and maybe even gay, which of course is still seen as bad by the MAGA crowd. (He's married to a woman, not that it should matter.) Never mind, of course, that posting shirtless gym selfies is a pasttime far more associated with the allegedly manly men of MAGA. That's the beauty of sexist moral panics: Since the people who perpetuate them don't believe their own lies, they don't feel the pinch of hypocrisy in believing it's only bad when the "other side" does it. 

Also, it's utterly irrelevant. The issue at stake is whether Trump lied, repeatedly, on financial documents to defraud others. The answer is a clear-cut yes, and that he did it with the regularity most people eat breakfast. One reason sleazy manipulators like Trump and his acolytes love to use gender stereotypes and sexism to manipulate people is that it dials directly into highly emotional areas, like identity and sexual expression. That short-circuits a lot of people's critical thinking skills, especially on the right, where people are already in a bad mental space of feeling defensive about gender hierarchies. 

Of course, Trump's immense guilt in this fraud case is why he's probably feeling desperate for cash — and therefore more people to defraud. James is asking for a $250 million penalty against Trump, which she is likely to get the way this trial is going. Considering how much he inflates his net worth, we can guess that the "billionaire" probably doesn't have the money. He's going to want to shake down his Fox News-addled supporters of as many $25 donations from their Social Security checks as he can get. That means speaking directly and frequently to their nastiest desires and fears, half of which are about gender. (The other half are racist, although as their porn searches can tell us, there's a lot of overlap.) As Trump's legal challenges heat up, expect more and grosser misogyny aimed at often random people. The increasingly frantic criminal will seek any way he can to keep his base from thinking clearly. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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