Who Is Ivanka Trump Trying to Impress?

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It’s been four days since the Trump administration rolled back a mandate that required all employers, regardless of religious or moral convictions, to cover birth control in their employees’ insurance, and in all this time, Ivanka Trump has said nothing.
This is not surprising. Although Ivanka is credited (through leaks to the press) with inserting lines about “women’s health” into Trump’s speeches since his campaign days, she has yet to have a success in actually pushing any positive action. If she was blinded by some grandiose idea that she could bridge the divide between feminists and the misogynist-in-chief before the election (remember that white pantsuit at the inauguration?), by now she knows that none of her old feminist buddies are buying it.
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So as we round the corner on yet another policy area that Ivanka Trump isn’t speaking up about, I’ve got a serious question: Who is she trying to impress? It can’t be Democrats and liberals, who see through her crap. Women’s rights groups, from grassroot efforts to large-scale organizations like Planned Parenthood, have dragged her. Republicans couldn’t care less about issues like women’s health, gender equity, and family outcomes, so her initiatives don’t earn her any brownie points with them. And then there’s the Ivanka Trump brand itself, an aspirational line of handbags, shoes, accessories, and clothes that largely feature a Coastal Elite sensibility. Is this really appealing to the Midwestern Mom or whoever Donald Trump’s current base is? Let’s unpack what she’s out there not being silent about and see if we can figure it out.
In September, Ivanka Trump said in an interview that she only wanted people to judge her a very small number of incredibly specific policy initiatives, despite the fact that the efforts she’s unveiled are relatively vapid compared to the regressive nature of this White House. So let's take a look at three of them.
1. HER AGENDA: In a substance-light, name-dropping heavy New York Post op-ed, Trump wrote about how there needs to be more technology education in schools.
WHO SHE’S TRYING TO IMPRESS: Women in tech and the business establishment.
WHY THIS MAY WORK: Gender equality in tech seems to be a bit of a buzzy topic in places like Silicon Valley right now, so Trump would be joining a train that’s already moving instead of starting something from scratch.
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BUT HERE’S WHY IT REALLY DOESN’T: The problems facing women in STEM are much more extensive than just “girls need computers in classrooms.” In fact, Trump doesn’t utter the term “sexism” once in her op-ed or speak to the actual root issues that keep women from taking more tech-heavy classes; that would require her to admit some not-so-fun truths about rigid gender roles and socialization. And on top of that, Donald Trump just slashed Department of Education funding. Who’s to say how long-lasting this program will be even if it does take off?
2. HER AGENDA: Trump is full steam ahead trying to make her child tax credit part of the final Republican tax reform bill.
WHO SHE’S TRYING TO IMPRESS: #WomenWhoWork and moderates.
WHY THIS MAY WORK: Trump was able to clear the first hurdle of getting the child tax credit in the initial draft of the bill. Trump’s policy also reportedly made an impression on Senator Marco Rubio and several conservative think tanks and family-oriented groups.
BUT HERE’S WHY IT REALLY DOESN’T: No elected official with an actual vote has stepped forward to publicly champion Trump’s tax credit through the process, and the credit isn’t a top priority for Republicans, who could easily leave it on the cutting room floor when push comes to shove. On top of that, alienating women’s rights groups by refusing to speak up on other issues has made Trump’s potential ally pool a lot smaller. Plus, experts say that her tax credit still wouldn’t make a significant impact on working families while largely benefitting those in the highest tax bracket.
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3. HER AGENDA: Ivanka has discussed her paid family leave idea for months now, including writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed on why family leave is important for the outcomes of children.
WHO SHE’S TRYING TO IMPRESS: #WomenWhoWork and every person who has described themselves as socially liberal but fiscally conservative.
WHY THIS MAY WORK: Early in the administration, several congressional representatives, including a few Democrats, were willing to hear Trump out on her proposal.
BUT HERE’S WHY IT REALLY DOESN’T: At the end of the day, paid family leave is a hard sell for Republicans, who are actively trying to decrease the number of government entitlements (or what they see as entitlements). And guess what? They ultimately hold the power of the purse. Trump would also have to overcome the commonplace idea amongst conservatives that women are meant to be at home, not working, and taking on larger societal implications isn’t really Trump’s strong suit. Just like with her child tax credit, Trump doesn’t have any elected officials publicly agreeing to shepherd her proposal through the necessary channels. There also hasn’t been any movement on this proposal for several months.
So even if we were judging her on just those three things, what does she have to show for it? It seems like a heaping plate of nada, which is why a piece in Politico this morning led with the obvious: “Ivanka Trump wants a win.”
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But why? My guess is that she tastes the power, even if she can’t fully reach it. Why else do you think she took her father seat at the G20 Summit? Or, take her recent comments on the state of DACA during her talk at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit: “I personally am of the opinion—the president has stated this—that we have to figure out a good solution that protects these innocent people, many of whom were brought to this country as children,” she said. But wait—DACA wasn’t in her narrowly defined “niche policy areas.” Yet here she is, giving her thoughts but not wanting criticism for it.
And maybe she thinks if she can get one thing done, somehow she’ll win us over. I get why she believes this: It’s easy to want to let Ivanka Trump slide in the midst of the dumpster fire that is the state of our nation. And she’s shiny. Every hair is in place, her outfits are expertly coordinated, and she doesn’t say the downright tone-deaf, racist, sexist, and transphobic things her father does. But when you think about it, isn’t that a pretty low bar?
In these times, we have to keep our eyes on the people who are sliding by or getting a pass as “moderate,” and in that regard, Trump is patient zero. She doesn’t have to be Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller to be lethal to this country. In fact, Ivanka Trump and what she represents could do a lot more long-term damage to the American woman as a whole. She wants you to feel “empowered,” but she just doesn’t want you to have any actual power. After all, she wants that for herself.
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And what does that leave you with? Besides a pair of allegedly plagiarized pumps, nothing.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Glamour, Allure, TIME, Newsweek, Fast Company, and Mashable. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.
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