There’s something about Ivanka Trump. Something that we’ve finally decided we don’t like.
Last year, in that halcyon period when it seemed assured that Donald Trump couldn’t possibly win the presidency, most still held a begrudging respect for his eldest daughter. Her convention speech! Her poise! Her business savvy! We were spooked (or comforted) by the theory that even though he couldn’t possibly make it to the White House, his capable-seeming scion one day might.
These days we’re much less impressed. Nearly everything about Ivanka Trump prompts a rolling of the eyes, whether it’s her clothing line (struggling), her role in the White House (unclear), or her recent book (badly panned). Will she do anything to counter that perception? It seems unlikely. The most frustrating thing about Trump is that she doesn’t seem to do much of anything at all.
Goodness knows America doesn’t love a woman who tries too hard: Look at the response to Hillary Clinton, the ultimate striver. What we do appreciate, however, is a hint of hard work. There’s an understanding that a person should have to put in at least a modicum of effort to get — and stay — in a position above ours. President Trump’s original appeal stemmed in large part from his purported bootstrapping to business success. And much of Ivanka Trump’s promise lay in the way that, although a child of privilege, she seemed willing to work hard and maybe even make a difference for others.
But the first months of her father’s presidency have undermined that impression. The emptiness of her claims to enterprise have become increasingly apparent. And in the few instances where a shadow of exertion dares appear, it’s done in her own self-interest — and even then rarely done well.
Despite lofty pronouncements during the campaign that she wasn’t her father’s adviser, Trump was quick to take an official White House advisory position and an office in the West Wing. But what exactly has she done since? She has shilled her jewelry by wearing it at official events, and dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping the day Chinese trademarks for her business were approved. But as for actual policy, even in the areas — women, gender and work — that she promised to make her own? “I do believe that in time I’ll get to the right place,” she told the New York Times. That’s a public figure’s version of the “I’m still researching” excuse every student has used for an overdue paper, and it’s just as unconvincing.
More recently, the publication of her book seems to have served as a flashpoint for those fed up by her increasingly lackadaisical persona. “Women Who Work” has already been shredded in enough columns to make up their own, much more useful book of essays. It’s a mishmash of anodyne advice, cribbed baldly from the most popular of the other “having it all” books for white-collar working women. The inspirational quotes, of which there are many, are trite and often misused. The book adds nothing to the conversation, a disappointment from someone who we thought might work to change the conversation for us all.
But perhaps the most irritating thing about the book is how glib and careless it appears from the first page onward, and how Trump clearly couldn’t be bothered to hide it. A Woman Didn’t Work very hard on this book at all. Had even a moment’s effort been put into text apart from assessing its revenue potential, a good deal of the vapidity that plagues it could have been avoided.
It’s not that Trump should be forced into a role she doesn’t want to play. Her stepmother Melania, for instance, has made it clear that she is not interested in expending the effort needed to be first lady, and we rather appreciate her silent candor. Yet many progressive, ambitious women harbored some secret hope that Ivanka Trump might be one of the few in Trump-land who “got it.” With recent days as evidence, it’s no longer possible to hold out that hope.
Deep down, after all, Americans still love a doer and dislike being sold a false bill of goods. Ivanka Trump’s not as much the former as we would have liked to believe. Now we’re left with the disappointing sensation of holding the latter.
Emba is the editor of In Theory, and writes about ideas for The Washington Post’s Opinions section.