You could read the new Ivanka Trump tongue bath in Financial Times. Or you could stare placidly at a pair of light flesh-toned pumps for several minutes, thinking about your own hair.
Given the potential intellectual value of those options, I chose poorly.
The profile, compiled using multiple interviews with Ivanka that took place over the summer, plus some of her friends, plus Jared, plus the ever-present “sources familiar with Ivanka’s thinking,” ran this week.
The FT profile doesn’t do much more to give the reader insight into an adviser to the president than a celebrity profile does in a glossy. It presents Ivanka as hard-working, but we’re not sure exactly how. She’s concerned by what’s going on, but we’re not sure exactly whether she understands what she’s concerned about, or that what concern she can muster even manifests on her unlined face. She’s making connections with people, taking meetings, but beyond the meeting we already know she screwed up with Cecile Richards we’re not sure what they mean.
Even the most ardent attempt at PR repair can’t fully explain away some of the first daughter’s failings. For example, for a presidential adviser, her influence over her father sure seems, to put it mildly, limited. As she took residence in her West Wing office in January, news reports promised that she’d soften her father, turn him gently away from American carnage and toward soft-focus feel-goodery. But over the ensuing months, sources close to Ivanka have confessed to those same outlets that actually, it’s unfair to expect her to have much influence at all over many issues. Instead, the press should focus on the layups that Ivanka’s been practicing—paid family leave, entrepreneurship, and Instagram. They should focus on her stoicism in the face of scrutiny, her unflappable exterior. In FT’s latest downward revision of expectations, Ivanka says it’s actually not fair for people to expect her to have any influence over her father. It’s not like she can confront him publicly. That’s against the rules.
After all, what’s a presidential adviser’s job beyond photo ops and popping unexpectedly into meetings?
The FT piece can’t varnish over Ivanka’s response to her father’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, but it tries. She was upset, the profile assures the reader. But not upset enough to do much beyond tweeting and privately urging her father to denounce the violence. After that hard day’s work was behind her, the president’s daughter went on vacation to Vermont, where she spent the next few days spacing out—sorry, “tuning out.”
Whenever I read generous articles about Ivanka Trump, I wonder less about Ivanka and more about the mysterious “sources familiar with Ivanka’s thinking” the articles inevitably cite. Are the “sources” her PR army? Are they Jared Kushner? Are they Ivanka Trump speaking with a fake British accent? If she’s so closed off and controlled, then who is actually familiar with Ivanka’s thinking?
While reading the FT Ivanka profile was about as valuable as eating an entire bag of marshmallows in a single sitting, its existence brings up some important issues. First, it’s worth discussing what the literary subgenre of the fawning profile does. In some cases, an inoffensive piece about a famous person who could also be a well-placed source is what people in the news-slinging biz call “source greasing.” It’s a form of strategic sucking up. In other cases, a well-connected PR team scored a buy-in from an interested publication. But, whatever their impetus, inoffensive to fawning profiles of controversial politically connected subjects risk aging poorly. Remember the Vogue profile of Asma al-Assad, the Syrian president’s wife and “rose in the desert”? Vogue hopes you don’t!
If the FT Ivanka profile were a standalone, it wouldn’t warrant this scrutiny. But it’s not. It’s one of a parade of sympathetic Trumpland image-rehab pieces tucked into respectable publications. Readers shouldn’t buy it, and should instead conclude about Ivanka what her actions have shown: She’s not harmless. She’s vanilla ice cream, with just a sprinkle of broken glass on top. You know, for sparkle.