by Anne Summers Illustration by Matt Davidson
Last November millions of Americans, especially women and girls, were devastated that Hillary Clinton, the most qualified candidate ever to seek the office of US president, was defeated by Donald Trump.
Apart from fear at what kind of president Trump would be, there was widespread mourning that a woman candidate had come so close and not made it.
How long will we have to wait to see a woman in the White House was a frequent refrain. Not so long, it turns out.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has assumed a role that appears to make her more powerful than anyone else in the building. Apart from her father, that is.
Ivanka’s influence has been on public display since she sat in the first Trump Tower meeting between the president-elect and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, but in recent weeks it has ratcheted up sufficiently to raise questions about exactly what her role and influence is.
Why, for instance, was she included in the final, formal photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan when they posed with Trump and his wife Melania in Trump’s garish Florida “White House” last week? Party of five? Really.
We had already been startled to see her placed next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a formal session – and Merkel’s look indicated she felt the same way.
Let’s be clear. Ivanka Trump is a 35-year-old real estate developer and fashion merchandiser. She has three children, a degree in finance and real estate from the Ivy League Wharton School of Business and she has successfully managed major real estate projects such as the Old Post Office Building in Washington that is now the Trump Hotel where anyone seeking presidential favours knows they best stay and entertain.
But does any of this qualify her to work in the White House as “assistant to the president”, with a West Wing office, a full security clearance and unfettered access to the man who sees her as his favourite child?
Ivanka seems to know her real estate and she has a, somewhat controversial, track record in the fashion and jewellery business but she has never worked in government, has no knowledge of policy or policy making and seems totally unaware of the political ramifications of her presence and some of her recent actions.
“Ivanka, personally, has an increased opportunity to advocate for women and be a positive force for change,” the Ivanka Trump website announced when the boss decamped to the White House. “As a private citizen, with full awareness of her heightened visibility, she will broaden her efforts to take a stance on issues of critical importance to American women and families.”
If recent actions are any guide, she is engaging in mission creep. She has expanded her portfolio interests from defending Planned Parenthood to bombing Syria.
She followed her tweet of April 5 that she was “heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria”, a day later with “Proud of my father for refusing to accept these horrendous crimes against humanity”.
In fact, she was responsible, according to her brother Eric, for convincing her father to send missiles into Syria. It was an action that was welcomed by many but it also confounded US allies and foes alike, and it has torn Trump’s political base to shreds. Nor has it been followed up with any statement of what happens next.
Ivanka Trump’s escalating presence, constantly at her father’s side and seated at every notable affair of state, has everyone talking.
Is she sidelining the rarely seen Melania, people are asking. Is she morphing into the de facto first lady?
Wrong question. It’s obvious that her role is not just supportive or cheerleading. Her father acknowledged long before he became a contender for the highest political job in the country that he depended on her for advice – on everything.
At the time, when it was all about real estate or her appearances on Celebrity Apprentice, it did not matter too much.
Now it does.
As it does with her husband Jared Kushner, another favourite of Trump’s, who has been tasked with every major government problem from solving the Middle East, to getting government to run more like businesses.
Like his wife, he has no qualifications for the role and just because he may be influential in forcing the obnoxious and truly dangerous Steve Bannon from the White House should not lull us into thinking the presidency is in capable hands.
Whether Jared and Ivanka are a team or are in competition with each other is also something to wonder at. He once described Ivanka as “the CEO of our household, whereas I’m more on the board of directors” so maybe he’s letting her run the show at the White House.
How else to explain Kushner’s absence from the photo of the Chinese leader and his wife?
If Ivanka Trump really is in charge, that’s certainly not what the 65.8 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton had in mind as they sought to elect the first woman to the White House.
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 15 April 2017