So Now That Ivanka Is White House Official, What Does It Actually Matter?

Photo: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Seventy-two days into the Trump presidency, Ivanka’s role in the administration has already pivoted three times. At first, the plan was to resettle her family in D.C. while also advocating for women in some yet-to-be-named capacity. Then, last week, news broke that she was setting up shop in the West Wing as her father’s unofficial adviser. When that raised ethical concerns, Ivanka did a very un-Trumpian thing and decided to take the criticisms seriously. So, as of this week, there’s another change in programming: She’ll serve as an official adviser, bound to the same rules and consequences as any other federal employee.
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If you’re wondering what Ivanka is going to do with all this newfound officiality, supposedly, we’ll find out soon enough. But another question that’s worth considering: Does the role that Ivanka plays in the White House really matter at all, until she actually accomplishes something notable?
I’m not suggesting that ethics or experience, among other things, don’t matter — of course they do, and under any other administration, unproven mettle and opacity in those zones might well have barred a candidate from becoming an official member of the president’s inner circle. But, at least for now, the rules have changed; Donald Trump doesn’t seem even vaguely concerned about being accused of nepotism or typecasting his administration by race, gender, and ethnicity. The fact that he’s so quick to insert his daughter — who, like other key members of his staff, has zero government background — is the opposite of surprising. While Trump’s willingness to promote his own child over a person who might actually know what they’re doing is frightening, we have a long list of things to be freaked out about (see: Russia, healthcare, Bannon, nuclear war), and Ivanka in the West Wing is low on the totem pole.
Because the thing is, all else aside, her day-to-day presence in the White House will probably have a net positive effect over the next four years. Sincere or not, she seems to be the only person at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue talking about women in an administration that has the lowest number of them since Ronald Reagan. And since Trump clearly can’t be trusted to play nice with female world leaders (really, he can’t shake Angela Merkel’s hand?) at least Ivanka will be around to pick up that slack.
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Trump has also said that his daughter will serve as his “eyes and ears” on the ground (he did not say that she would be his stand-in for nights out with Justin Trudeau going forward, but it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility). She may wind up acting as his moral compass, too: Ivanka is “always pushing me to do the right thing,” Trump has tweeted in the past — the implication being that, without her, he might not feel so inclined. So if she can bend his ear before he picks a Twitter fight with Kim Jong-un? Officially, it’s going to be a plus to have her around.
If she manages to temper her dad and also incept some of her policy opinions into his brain in the months to come: great. But let’s not starting hailing Ivanka as a champion of the people yet — lest we forget, she has a long way to go before she’s truly earned our trust and esteem.
She hasn't managed to edge her dad to go the paid family leave route for even federal employees — something that, technically, he could have done via executive order; and all that’s come from the wage gap talking points that dominated Ivanka’s RNC speech so far have been stray, vague promises in Trump’s late February congressional address. She doesn’t seem to have been able to persuade him on the subject of climate change, either: Right after she set up a meeting between her father and Al Gore, Trump wound up appointing Scott Pruitt — a well-known climate change denialist — to run the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact — save for rumours that she and husband Jared Kushner are shaping LGBT policy behind-the-scenes — we haven't seen Ivanka weigh in on her father’s agenda and pull off a win.
Until she does, her new official role seems more like a glorified babysitting gig than it does a platform for shaping policy. She may have built a fine reputation and impressive CV in the private sector — though it’s worth remembering that even while she has proven herself to be notably down-to-earth and hardworking, her success is built on the back of 1% wealth and a family empire, which gave her an obvious edge. Right now, the only thing we really know about Ivanka is this: She’s inherited the family talent for personal marketing, casting herself as a representative for women and families, the Trump heir in whom it seems most plausible to place our fractured faith.
But good marketing doesn't always translate into a great product, and we're about to find out what's beneath her carefully cultivated persona. Before this moment, Ivanka was trying to have it all: influence without culpability for the consequences of her actions. It was possible for her to go skiing while Republicans were trying to relieve 24 million Americans of their health insurance; she could get away with not commenting on the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the immigration ban, or transgender bathroom bills. Now, her government role comes with actual responsibilities and a paper trail along with them. Hunkered down a stone's throw from the Oval Office, it's time for Ivanka to be accountable for the job she's been handed. Okay, Ms. Trump: You've got our attention. Now it's time to prove that you deserve it.
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