Ivanka Trump was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2017 with a glowing endorsement from media executive Wendi Murdoch. “Ivanka continues to earn my respect and admiration for how she has chosen to use her new visibility. She has long advocated to empower women and girls and is now leading education initiatives and working to put an end to human trafficking. I am deeply impressed by her courage to leave behind life as she knew it and move her young family to Washington to pursue positive change.”
But does the first daughter deserve the honor? Not since Hillary Clinton and her pantsuits has a woman in the White House caused such a ruckus. Half the country adores her as a graceful example of American women. The other half, who hoped she’d be a check on her father’s conservative policies, is really annoyed at her thus-far milquetoast approach. I’m still unsure what to think of her or whether to think of her at all.
Watching media coverage of Trump since the election has been perplexing. Immediately following the win, she said she was just going to be a daughter to the president. When her husband, Jared Kushner, took on a role requiring him to be in D.C., she says she realized “having one foot in and one foot out wouldn’t work,” as she explained to Gayle King on CBS This Morning.
Her official role is now assistant to the president, a title she took to clear up ethics concerns; being an official White House employee requires her to disclose her finances and divest from her companies. It’s an unpaid position, though she does work from a White House office. There’s long history of children advising their presidential fathers in the White House, but Trump may be the first one in living memory. What’s less common is a child trying to advise their presidential father on issues on which they disagree. This is a sticky point, and the one that is driving opinion of Trump.
Feminist leaders and liberals have consistently criticized her for not speaking out publicly and forcefully against her father on issues for which she claims to be an advocate. So far, she has declined to answer those criticisms directly, instead speaking obliquely through interviews. When King asked how she’d respond to the critics, she said, “I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some cases, it’s through protest and going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue which you disagree with. And sometimes, it’s quietly and directly and candidly. Where I disagree with my father, he knows it, and I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I lean in and fully support the agenda.”
Long before the campaign, Trump founded a jewelry line to cater to women in the high-end market that, until then, targeted men. Branching off her lifestyle brand, she founded the nonprofit initiative Women at Work. In the days after the election, she arranged meetings with her father for Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, both well known for their work on climate change. She also met independently and quietly, sometimes completely unknown to the media, with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center Marcia Greenberger and adviser to the National Partnership for Women & Families Judy Lichtman. Moves like this have angered many conservatives as the administration has softened its stance on issues like the Paris climate treaty, the repeal of Obamacare and a carbon tax. On the other hand, Politico reported on Richards’ anger after what she called “deafening silence” on health care from the first daughter.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle echoed Richards on what has become the rally cry to Trump. “She’s taken one of the potentially most powerful positions in the White House, one of the most powerful women in the world, and now she has to be accountable for what she says she’s so passionate about.”
Or does she? She’s serving as an unpaid assistant in a role that doesn’t appear to have taken a job from anybody else and which she only moved into to defray conflict-of-interest concerns. Who exactly is she beholden to?
What’s confusing is that so much speculation has happened over what Trump might or might not, should or should not, have said, and she isn’t piping in to quell it. Town & Country magazine recently included an article subheader that claimed Trump influenced the decision to bomb Syria, quoting this from an interview her brother Eric Trump: “I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that.” An article in Cosmopolitan quoted from a speech Ivanka Trump gave at the Fortune Most Powerful Women summit last October in which she said, “I don’t express my views on policy, with one exception as it relates to childcare and advocating for women.” The article went on to surmise what she might be telling her father and what he might be inferring. Nobody really knows and that’s driving everyone crazy.
Trump is definitely blazing her own trail in this new political landscape. She has the ear of the president, none of the expectations of a paid office and both sides want her to represent them. At just 35 years old, she’s is — whether you like it or not — kind of an it-girl.
So, yeah, for this year at least, she’s definitely an influencer. Let’s hope she uses that power for good.