Saturday, April 29, 2017
Ivanka, a one time seller going for the gold
|He always has that shit-eating look on his face in pictures with her|
There's a lot of talk at the moment about Ivanka Trump's influence in the White House so I thought I'd share this piece from last November in the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino about "Ivanka's" book. I put it in scare quotes because I'm sure it was ghost written. But it has her name on it and presumably her endorsement. It's telling:
Ivanka Trump’s 2009 self-help book, “The Trump Card,” opens with an unlikely sentence: “In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Ivanka quickly adds caveats. “Yes, I’ve had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match,” she writes. “Yes, I’ve had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I’ve chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather.” Still, she insists, she and her brothers didn’t attain their positions in their father’s company “by any kind of birthright or foregone conclusion.”
The cognitive dissonance on display here might prompt a reader who wishes to preserve her sanity to close the book immediately. But “The Trump Card” is instructive, if not as a manual for young women interested in “playing to win in work and life,” as the subtitle advertises, then as a telling portrait of the Trump-family ethos, an attitude that appears quite unkind even when presented by Ivanka, its best salesman, in the years preceding her father’s political rise.
Ivanka spends much of “The Trump Card” massaging the difficulty in her premise. What can a woman born with a silver spoon in her mouth teach people who use plastic forks to eat salads at their desks? To answer this question, Ivanka employs an audacious strategy: all of her advantages have actually been handicaps, she says. When she was appointed to the board of directors at Trump Entertainment Resorts, at age twenty-five, the situation was “stacked all the way against me.” Her last name, her looks, her youth, her privilege have all colluded to make people underestimate her. And when she is overestimated—when people believe that she has an “inherent understanding of all things related to real estate and finance,” because her father is Donald Trump—this, too, “can be a big disadvantage.”
This messy argument comes with correspondingly messy metaphors. “We’ve all got our own baggage,” Ivanka writes, before explaining what she means by baggage: “Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage on the way.” Ivanka compares herself to a runner positioned on the outside track, whose head start at the beginning is just an illusion. “In truth, the only advantage is psychological; each runner ends up covering the same ground by the end of the race.” Soon, though—by page nine—she has grown tired of pretending to be her reader’s equal. “Did I have an edge, getting started in business?” she asks. “No question. But get over it. And read on.”
Ivanka is now thirty-five, and she has evolved since the days of “The Trump Card.” She got married to Jared Kushner and gave birth to three children; while she is as blond and beautiful and patrician as ever, her personal aesthetic is now less socialite and more life-style-blogger-cum-C.E.O. Through her “Women Who Work” brand, she has marketed herself as a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and Sheryl Sandberg. (Her second book, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” is slated for March, 2017.) Throughout her father’s unhinged Presidential campaign, she was easily his best surrogate; she is so poised that she could soften her father’s persona just by standing near him. A number of news items that might have clung to other women in the same position—old lingerie photos in men’s magazines, peculiar hearsay having to do with comments about “mulatto cock”—never stuck. Ivanka is white, wealthy, and beautiful, and these attributes often pass as moral virtues. “Classiness” does too, although it’s often just a kind of gracefulness deployed as a weapon or a shield.
Ivanka’s aesthetic differences from her father are often parsed as political differences, and she has made the most of such misperceptions. A friend of hers told Vogue in February, 2015, that the half of America that hates Donald Trump loves Ivanka—“because she’s not him!” In a November 2nd piece for BuzzFeed titled “Meet the Ivanka Voter,” Anne Helen Petersen identified a type of suburban white woman who supported Trump in vague alignment with his daughter. The Ivanka voter, she wrote, “does not think of herself as racist,” and “describes herself as ‘socially moderate.’ ” She shops at department stores that carry the Ivanka Trump Collection, and she didn’t put a Trump sign on her lawn. The Ivanka voter wasn’t comfortable explicitly endorsing Trump’s rhetoric, but, then again, neither was Ivanka. And if Ivanka stood to benefit from a Trump Administration, then surely the Ivanka voter would benefit, too.
But Ivanka, like her father, is concerned with personal profit. Her alignment with him on this matter is the basis of “The Trump Card,” in which she writes, in one section, “Gosh, I sound like my father, don’t I? But that’s what you get from this particular daddy’s girl.” The book is unmistakably aimed at women—the title is written in hot pink on the cover, which also features a blurb from Anna Wintour—but its few gender-specific sections aren’t pitched in the empowerment-heavy tone one might expect. In fact, they sound like Donald Trump. In a section about sexual harassment, Ivanka recounts the catcalls she got from construction workers growing up, then explains that these men would catcall anyone “as long as she was chromosomally correct.” She advises “separating the real harassment from the benign behavior that seems to come with the territory.”
It’s been decades since a President has come into office with adult children, and, at least among modern Presidents, none of those children had Ivanka’s public profile. (In 1976, the twenty-six-year-old Chip Carter left an eight-thousand-dollar mobile home in Georgia when he stumped for his father on the road.) Ivanka will likely continue trying to project some distance from her father’s politics—recently, she separated her own social-media accounts from the accounts of the Ivanka Trump life-style brand. But the illusion will be imperfect: her jewelry company sent out a press release about the bracelet Ivanka wore on “60 Minutes” after her father’s election; she was photographed meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister the week after the election; and she sat in on a call with the Argentinian President. She will have, and presumably use, every opportunity to enrich the family company, of which she remains an executive vice-president. This is the definition of corruption, but as laundered through Ivanka—who’s been tweeting about banana bread and posting photos of her children—it won’t look so bad.
For anyone who still finds Ivanka to be a cipher, “The Trump Card” provides a surprisingly clear indication of her instincts, particularly when she discusses her childhood. She offers a story about being forced, by her mother, to fly coach to the south of France as the moment she realized she needed to make her own money. She has a sour sense of humor: she describes attending the élite prep school Choate Rosemary Hall as an opportunity “to look at the world from a whole new angle. Even if it meant living in a building named for someone else!”
When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.” In another early business story, she and her brothers made fake Native American arrowheads, buried them in the woods, dug them up while playing with their friends, and sold the arrowheads to their friends for five dollars each.
“The Trump Card” contains other illuminating surprises. Chapters are separated by short essays called “Bulletins from My Blackberry,” featuring advice from Ivanka’s mentors. One of these, “On Being Positive,” is by Roger Ailes, who was recently ousted from Fox after being exposed as a serial sexual harasser. “If you listen to negative people, you’ll get a migraine,” Ailes writes. In a passage about technology and distraction, Ivanka writes that her father “has no patience for . . . electronic gadgets.” She advises her readers to behave on social media: “It’s only a matter of time before some political candidate or high-level appointee is bounced from contention because he or she has been ‘tagged’ in an inappropriate photo.” And then, in a line that’s somewhat shocking to come across now: “My friend Andrew Cuomo, New York’s great attorney general, tells me that e-mail is the key to prosecuting just about everyone these days.”
For my money, though, the book’s most revealing remark arrives after Ivanka recalls a boxing match in Atlantic City, in which Mike Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in ninety-one seconds. The crowd, having paid a lot of money and expecting more action, grew angry. Donald Trump got into the ring to calm them down, impressing his seven-year-old daughter. “That electric night in Atlantic City made me realize that it isn’t enough to win a transaction,” she writes, all these years later. “You have to be able to look the other guy in the eye and know that there is value in the deal on the other end, too—unless, of course, you’re a onetime seller and just going for the gold.”
The presidency is the Trump family's greatest grift. And Ivanka is at the center of it. Indeed, she and daddy are the faces of the brand, past and future.
digby 4/29/2017 11:00:00 AM