Critics of Ivanka Trump often say she has no principles, because she doesn’t appear to stand for anything.
That’s not totally fair. Ivanka does have one clear principle: the preservation of her brand.
Her brand is “aspirational woman,” which means that Ivanka’s goal is to be aspirational in ways that can be mass-marketed and sold. Her goal is to be a goal, she aspires to be aspirational, a hungry, greedy little pursuit that is so bereft of meaning that it could at any moment collapse upon itself into a bullshit singularity.
I’m sure many Ivanka watchers believe that the president’s least dumb adult child had a bad year. Her and her husband’s public relations machines spun out story after story about how frustrated the couple was, how they really wanted to stop President Trump from trying to ban trans Americans from serving in the military, how Ivanka really wanted to promote women’s health, how much “empowerment” (whatever that is) means to her. How there was a special place in hell for people who behave just like Roy Moore, the man who her father campaigned for weeks later. Gosh darn it, if only Ivanka could have stopped him; she really wanted to, according to a source familiar with Ivanka’s thinking.
Her inability to accomplish, well, anything meant that to maintain her brand as America’s Success Doll, the first daughter had to keep moving the goalposts. First she was going to be an advocate for women and families, then she was going to focus instead on paid family leave and it was unfair to expect anything more of her, then she suddenly loved a tax plan that some analysts say would harm women and children.
The feminists she used to cozy up to, back two years ago when she was a liberal Democrat, have all but publicly disowned her (she even pissed off Cecile Richards, which seems ill-advised). She enraged parents when she showed up at their children’s school unannounced, enraged fashion watchers when she flirted with cultural appropriation on her trip to India. Enraged the LGBT community with her half-ass acknowledgement of Pride Month, leading to one of the most entertaining internet pile-ons in recent memory.
When her father complimented the character of the Nazi-adjacents who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, Ivanka—who is Jewish, married to a Jewish man, and the mother to three Jewish children—was on vacation in Vermont, spacing out. Later, a story about her and her husband clarified that before she spaced out, she was worried. Not worried enough to tweet, or appear on television, or quit her job working for Donald Trump, but worried all the same.
In the face of most national crises, Ivanka did nothing. But that’s perfect for her brand of being a sort of mascot for wanting to do something, without actually doing it. She was on a ski vacation during an important Trumpcare vote this spring. She was on vacation a lot, tired out from all that nothing.
Her exits from D.C. were ill-timed, but so were her entrances. The woman is worse at reading cues than a drunken Charlie Rose.
Ivanka famously interrupted interviews her father was having with two newspapers, and barged in, unwelcome, to an important policy meeting her father was having with lawmakers. She sat in for her father during the G20 summit—a woman who until her dad was elected president, had professional accomplishments that included almost getting indicted for lying about condo sales, and slinging footwear and handbags that are just a few degrees away from cute.
But, from a brand perspective, Ivanka might not have had such a bad year. If her goal is the self-perpetuating meaninglessness of the most craven lifestyle bloggers, she accomplished a lot of the nothing she needed to this year.
Her Instagram account reflects an alternate reality, one where she is an adored American Princess Diana-meets-Jackie Kennedy instead of an Imelda Marcos-meets-Marie Antoinette, all shoes and champagne popsicles on Memorial Day.
She even redid her White House office in white, the official color of nothing.
But nothing is actually perfect for the Ivanka brand, “women who work” but who also need multiple nannies in order to raise their children, women who have “a seat at the table” in the most male administration in recent memory. Women who stand for women’s empowerment but take advantage of sweatshop labor, mostly by women, in their company’s supply chain. It makes no sense. Women whose success comes at the direct expense of other women, whose success can only be celebrated if the celebrants thinks of very little beyond the superficial.
It was a good year for Ivanka, Inc. If she has another three years like this one, she’ll leave the White House as she went in—a blank slate onto which women of all income levels can feel free to spend their money emulating. Wouldn’t it be nice to just space out for awhile?