In a head-spinning piece of political propaganda, U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a speech in the Rose Garden June 1, in which he vowed to send the military to contain protestors calling for racial justice. As he spoke, he made an example of the protestors assembled in front of the White House in Lafayette Square, ordering federal agents to attack the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Then, Trump and his aides walked across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic site also known as the Church of the Presidents, for a photo op. In front of the 200-year-old structure, Trump held up a Bible, using it as a prop, just like he was using the church — all to the consternation of religious leaders.
“He did not pray,” said Mariann E. Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. “He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years.”
Trump did not make the White House-documented outing alone. Among the aides who walked with the president was his daughter, Ivanka Trump, the only one wearing a mask despite the still-raging pandemic. (She didn't seem to be wearing it on the walk to the church, which suggests that she put it on for the photo.) Ivanka also, conspicuously, carried a large white leather tote — an accessory that elicited many questions. Because: What was she carrying in there? “Her pride? Her soul? S’mores?” lawyer Asha Rangappa asked on Twitter. (We’d add: A backbone? A conscience??)
No one else was carrying a bag (few people need such a big bag when they’re only walking one block). Its stark whiteness stood out amid everyone’s black suits. If you have ever taken a political communications 101 class, you might be able to hear your professor saying, “Look at how they choose to portray Ivanka’s prop as a first-aid kit to heal the country from chaos.”
So what was in the handbag? Was it something meant to give aid? If you pause CSPAN’s video of the event at the 4:47 mark, you’ll see, as one eagle-eyed tweeter noticed, a hand-off: Ivanka passing her father the very Bible he abused for a photo op. (“Is that your Bible?” a reporter asked. “It’s a Bible,” Trump responded.) He held it like a shield, sharing “a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus,” as Budde said.
Ivanka, too, was shielded with her props: a mask, likely worn to appear as the responsible one compared to everybody else in her midst; that designer bag, allowing her to seem like an ever-prepared helper. Both were deployed as tools to make people see Ivanka in the role of a saviour delivering them from the ongoing turmoil and chaos. But what they revealed instead were all the ways in which she, like the mask and the handbag, is also an accessory. Ivanka, after all, is an accessory to her father’s crimes, pretending to be a pretty vessel to help him look like a strongman to his base in his desperation to hold on to power in November. She hands him the Holy Book and stands by him as he encourages military violence.
That purse holds Ivanka’s keys to the kingdom, if she plays her cards right. And, appropriately for the dystopian hell we’re in, you can shop her look. Earlier in the day yesterday, The Daily Mail ran an article with the headline “She means business!” breathlessly describing how Ivanka was “dressed to impress” as she left her house in her designer mask and carrying that white bag. “Be beautiful like Ivanka and carry a Max Mara tote bag,” suggests the article, linking to where you can buy it for USD $1,540. On Twitter, Kate Bennett, a CNN correspondent and former fashion editor, quite earnestly identified the purse. It looks like a practical handbag: soft, smooth leather, double handles, adjustable strap, big enough to carry your shame in.