Bruni: Ivanka Trump's Bitter Scent

Bruni: Ivanka Trump's Bitter Scent

March 16th, 2017 by Frank Bruni, The New York Times in Opinion Times Commentary

The next time you hear about the sway that Ivanka Trump holds over her father and what a powerful advocate for equal opportunity she is, I want you to remember these numbers:

Twenty. That's how many men are in, or poised to join, the president's Cabinet.

Four. That's how many women.

Barack Obama's first Cabinet included seven. Bill Clinton's, six. George W. Bush's, four, same as Trump's, but that was 16 years ago, and he didn't have an adult daughter who styled herself as both an influential adviser and a feminist hero. Where precisely is the Ivanka Effect?

She won't be engaging this riddle in her new book, "Women Who Work," due out in early May, and I say that not because I know what's in it — I don't — but because I know Ivanka, or at least I've been watching her closely for a while. She doesn't take responsibility, not where dear old Dad is concerned. She takes advantage, all the while asking us to be grateful for her presence beside him.

When he behaves, word goes out that she or her husband, Jared Kushner, had his ear. When he doesn't, word goes out that it wasn't their fault, that they can do only so much and that if they hadn't valiantly moved to Washington, well, think about how much worse off we'd all be.

Now they want credit for mitigating the madness. More than that, they want inoculation, so that after they've savored his reign, they're spared the stain and can return without wound or shame to the social circles in which they long traveled, where Steve Bannon is no hero and Planned Parenthood no villain.

"Saturday Night Live" had something to say about that. The show's most recent episode included a mock commercial in which Ivanka, played by Scarlett Johansson, hawks a new signature fragrance: Complicit. It's for "the woman who could stop all this but won't." Ivanka looks lovingly into a mirror — and sees her father staring back.

From the moment when he announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in June 2015, her actions have far exceeded the demands of filial loyalty. And they're not explained by some profound ideological affinity with her father, because she doesn't spout ideology — just gauzy platitudes. Check out the "Wise Words" section of ivankatrump.com. It's an overstuffed flea market of threadbare aphorisms ("never ever settle," "work to become, not to acquire," "keep your head up," "there is enough success for everyone") in fanciful typography and pinkish hues.

In campaigning full-force for her father, she and her brothers seemed at once to be repaying a debt — they'd profited so enormously from the Trump name — and hopping aboard a ride to greater dividends still. But she stood out, because she in particular insisted on a veneer of virtue. She alone marketed a persona of goodness.

That persona turned her into more than just a surrogate for her father, more even than a character witness. She was his alibi. He couldn't be guilty of vileness toward women because he had produced a woman as enlightened and gracious as Ivanka, who not only stood with him but spoke up for him at the Republican National Convention, assuring the world of his benevolence.

Maybe her conversations with lawmakers really will yield legislation to lessen the cost of child care and to help working mothers, though it's a long shot. Maybe she'll do some targeted good. I don't doubt that she'd like to.

But that's hardly the sum of her motivations, and it almost certainly isn't the essence. Her meticulously groomed Twitter and Instagram accounts give her away. They're exercises in self-affirmation, placing her in a Washington without pores or protests. It looks like she's having the airbrushed adventure of a lifetime.

And it smells, yes, like complicity.

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