So there was Ivanka Trump on stage Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, IMF director Christine Lagarde, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Netherlands' Queen Maxima for talks on encouraging women's economic empowerment.
It was her first international outing as a White House adviser, and she was part of the W20 Summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, entitled "Inspiring women: Scaling up women's entrepreneurship."
Especially on this day, this could have been an enlightening discussion of Trump policy, given the current uncertainty of President Trump's "America first" stance. In his brief foray into international affairs and trade, he has questioned multilateral trade deals, left most of us wondering how the U.S. will proceed internationally, been critical of Germany's large trade surplus with the U.S., and on Monday moved to impose a 20 percent tariff on softwood lumber entering the U.S. from Canada.
But the younger Trump shared a different enlightenment when she opted to shift to the familiar campaign territory of defending dad.
It didn't go over well. Nor should it.
One issue at the top of the agenda was how working women can better balance family and work, and Ivanka's first question was what did being the "first daughter of the United States" entail. The panel's moderator asked: "Who do you represent, Ivanka? Your father, the American people or your business?"
"Well certainly not the latter," Trump answered, acknowledging that she is still finding her footing in the new role. But then she began her fuller answer: "Speaking as an entrepreneur ..."
Later, she told the group: "Sadly, the United States is one of the only countries in the world, the only developed country in the world, that doesn't have a paid leave policy for the benefit of families. So that is something I am very, very proud of my father's advocacy, long before he came into the presidency, but during the campaign including in the primaries, he's been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive in the new reality of ..."
As the audience tittered, groaned, even hissed, Trump was interrupted by the moderator: "You hear the reaction from the audience, so I need to address one more point. Some attitudes towards women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he's such an empowerer of women. ... Are things changing, or what's your comment on that?"
Trump: "I've certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that's been perpetuated. But I know from personal experience — and the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and the ability to do the job as well as any man. As a daughter ... I know he encouraged me and enabled me to thrive. I grew up in a house where there were no barriers to what I could accomplish ..."
The body language on the stage was mesmerizing.
Chancellor Merkel, who got the president's cold shoulder in the Oval Office some weeks ago rather than a handshake during trade talks, at one point turned full face to watch Trump's response.
And though the moderator did not specify which of President Trump's comments might call his attitudes toward women into question, the most obvious one would likely be the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which he lewdly bragged about how his fame enabled him to grope and forcibly kiss women.
Watching the W20 Summit video — and certainly it will play over and over across TV screens in coming days — even detractors must feel sorry for Ivanka Trump.
Perpetuated by the critical media, Ms. Trump? Who uttered those words in the first place? And your mission on that stage was not to continue campaigning for your father, but to further issues of women. Queen Maxima offered an excellent example, and drew applause when she called on world telecommunications providers to further digital literacy of women to help advance their inclusion in the labor market and leadership positions.
The deeper question for Ivanka Trump — a young mother with three children, lots of advantages and complete access to the president of the United States — is whether she can parlay her growing importance to build bridges on which her father can find his way to respect all women — not just family members.
She noted that half of the population is female, but only 30 percent of U.S. privately owned businesses are women's businesses, and only 16 percent of those businesses have employees beyond the owner, pointing up both opportunities and challenges. We understand the challenges. We're looking for ideas.
To her credit, Trump said she was "humbled" to be in Germany with so many "formidable leaders," and she said she would listen, learn and bring the advice and knowledge "back to both my father and the president — and hopefully, that will bring about incremental, positive change ..."
We hope so. The trouble, of course, is and will continue to be one of trust in the Trumps.
The moderator summed it up well.
"We will be curious, thank you."