Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ranting On...Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump
One of the unwritten rules of American politics is that it's not fair to attack the president's family, particularly the president's children.  Pretty much any time a candidate goes after their opponent's children it's considered universally bad form.  From Luci Johnson's poor grades to Susan Ford being blasted for wearing jeans to a young Chelsea Clinton being ridiculed for her appearance by Mike Myers and Rush Limbaugh, being a president's child, specifically a president's daughter, cannot be a particularly easy road to travel.  So it would be understandable to look at the stories this morning out of Germany of Ivanka Trump being booed at a summit as being inappropriate, something we shouldn't tolerate.  But if you look a wee bit deeper, you see that this is the exception, not the rule, and publicly protesting or disapproving of Ivanka Trump is not the same as in the past.

One of the reasons that it's important to remember that we have "hands off" treatment from critiques from the media for First Daughters is that the role of First Daughter (or First Spouse/Son/what-have-you) is inherently apolitical.  Up until Ivanka Trump, no first daughter has had a prominent role in the president's White House, nor has she been a prominent spokesperson for her father.  There are exceptions, of course, and this has started to change somewhat in recent campaigns (look at how Chelsea Clinton paid a more public role in her mother's campaign in 2016), but by-and-large First Children are just people that happened to be related to the president.  They were not commonly sent as ambassadors of the country (usually if they went abroad, it was with POTUS or the First Lady, more obviously political figures), and they didn't talk much about public policy.

As a result of this, criticism of them felt unfair, and frequently, unfortunate.  Oftentimes it focused on the way that they dressed, behaved in public, or their appearances.  Considering the harsh glare of a spotlight they didn't invite, and their generally younger age (most recent First Daughters have been under, say, 25, including President Trump's two youngest children), it didn't seem fair to hold them to the same standards as their parents.  Indeed, making them news at all felt a little bit of a problem, because the focus should be on their parents, specifically their father (sorry, I wish I could say parent here, but we've yet to have a female president, much to many of our chagrins, so I'm not tailoring the gender).

Ivanka Trump, though, is different, and it's hard not to see the ways that she obviously diverges from past First Daughters.  For starters, she's considerably older than most women in this role-the last presidential daughter to be 35+ while her father was in office was Maureen Reagan.  As a result, you can't really claim "youthful indiscretion" when she misspeaks or pushes herself into the spotlight-she knows what she's doing here.  Were the press going after her younger sister Tiffany, who is 23 and seems to shun most political conversations so far, I'd say this was a case of the media or the public being unfair, but Ivanka Trump knows what she's in for going in front of a crowd.

This, of course, wouldn't invite her to be booed, but she also is not simply someone who happens to be the president's daughter-she's now an Assistant to the President, married to one of the president's closest advisers, and (by choice) a representative of his administration.  As a result, she owns the things he does because he's her boss now.  Publicly defending her father may seem like a natural instinct, but she's choosing to use her father's political clout to further her own career here-that comes with responsibility, and as a result she now owns his comments, particularly about women and family care, which is where she has focused most of her comments during the Trump administration.

As a result, one could argue that booing her for essentially misstating her father's positions felt like a natural reaction.  Going before a very informed, important audience at a summit discussing women's issues and throwing out easily-dismissed pablum like her father having hired thousands of women or that, in the Trump household, she learned that she could be anything she wanted without barriers, feels pretty tepid.  After all, give my own father a billion dollars and I wouldn't have had too many barriers growing up myself, and her father's employment of women doesn't dismiss his treatment of women, considering the over a dozen sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him or the fact that he paid his female campaign employees one-third that of their male counterparts, not to mention his disparaging comments on the campaign trail about the appearances of Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton.  As President Trump's "ambassador to women," which feels like what Ms. Trump is, dismissing that as a flight of the media and only holding up his treatment of her, his own daughter, as the standard we should use borders on the imbecilic.

It also says something the position that President Trump is putting his daughter in here.  Ms. Trump's trip abroad included meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of our most important allies.  She was on a panel that included Merkel, Christine Lagarde (Director of the IMF), and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands-powerful women, ones who serve as critical emissaries of their countries or organizations.  That Trump chose his daughter, rather than a Vice President, Secretary of State, or a key adviser of his (one could imagine Condoleeza Rice or Hillary Clinton being on this panel under past administrations) speaks to both the dearth of women in Trump's cabinet and how Ivanka Trump plays a very critical public role as the president's "outreach" to women's issues.  One could argue that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley or SBA Administrator Linda McMahon (two of the only four women in Trump's cabinet) would have been more appropriate choices for a trip to Germany and a panel on female entrepreneurship, but Trump chose his daughter.  As a result, she needs to be held accountable for his actions on this subject, and if she denies or misleads the audience, booing or challenging her seems only appropriate.

Ms. Trump clearly wasn't ready for a conversation of this magnitude, nor one could argue worthy of meeting a world leader like Chancellor Merkel (it feels like Trump, Pence, or Tillerson should have filled that role considering Germany's crucial alliance for the United States), but she chose to do this, and the president approved of it.  Much like her father, even though she might not be ready or qualified for the position she's attained, she's an adult choosing to sit in this high-ranking office, and with that comes responsibility; the American public should not tolerate a learning curve for the White House.  Ivanka Trump is not simply a First Daughter any longer-she's now an assistant to the President and an ambassador of his abroad.  With that, she has to accept the responsibility of everything her new boss does, even the stuff that is worth booing over.

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