First daughter and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump knows the power of her brand. It’s ingrained in everything she does, from how she has portrayed her real estate dealings and defunct fashion line, to her “strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes” called Women Who Work, to how she’s always played the ideal modern working woman who will have it all — family and a career, beauty and success — through sheer determination.
Branding is what she learned from her father, President Donald Trump, who got a cool $60.7 million loan from his own dad (about $140 million in today’s dollars) but spent his entire life building a false “self-made man” narrative. Following her father’s playbook has been successful and a recent example is how the Ivanka Trump brand, not her actions, landed the first daughter a spot in Forbes’ The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list for the second year in a row. Why do the work when you can just pretend to do the work?
Ivanka’s carefully crafted evolution from heiress and entrepreneur to public official began as soon as she began acting as a surrogate to her father in the 2016 presidential election. Who can forget the eldest Trump daughter, dressed sensibly in millennial pink and channeling the traditional image of femininity, at the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC)? In her speech, Ivanka softened her father’s image with phrases such as, “He taught us that there’s nothing that we cannot accomplish, if we marry vision and passion with an enduring work ethic” and calling him “color blind and gender neutral.” She also began positioning herself as a moderate alternative to her father when she brought up the topic of paid family leave at the conservative gathering — something no one had dared to do before at that level.
Once she officially joined the Trump White House in the spring of 2017, Ivanka has worked hard to give off the appearance of making some progress in the issues included in her portfolio while simultaneously accomplishing very little. Though she originally tried to paint herself as a champion to women and children, playing the role of a de facto first lady, the move quickly backfired. In the almost two years Ivanka has been in the administration, she stood behind rolling back an Obama era equal pay measure, stayed silent on her father’s attempt to ban transgender troops from serving, supported the nomination of now Justice Brett Kavanaugh despite the sexual assault allegations against him, campaigned for the governor who signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban, went fundraising at the height of the family separation crisis at the border, and much more.
The victories she has obtained have been far in between: she helped Republicans introduce paid family leave legislation, though it didn’t advance in Congress; spearheaded public-private partnerships to push for more STEM education in schools, but it’s unclear how many students will really benefit; championed the White House’s “Hire American” initiative as her own brand’s products were made overseas; and tried to fight against human trafficking, even though her father’s policies are actually making the situation worse for victims.
It’s not a shocker then that Forbes explicitly included in its ranking “while it’s unclear how impactful her role is” when describing Ivanka’s accomplishments that landed her in the list. The extent of the first daughter’s power is immeasurable because it’s pretty much nonexistent and she has just made everyone believe she is powerful through smoke and mirrors. Her saving grace, as always, has been the weight her name carries and how it has mutated to mean more since her father assumed office. Is it a scam? Yes. Does it matter to people concerned with power? Not really.
For the 2018 itineration, the former real estate executive dropped five spots from #19 to #24, but still ranked near women such as Queen Elizabeth II, Lauren Powell Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey. (One of these things is not like the other.) If that’s any indication, we can expect that long after her father leaves office the Ivanka Trump myth will endure (if she avoids her legal troubles). There’s nothing society loves more than an attractive and smart white woman who “made it,” even if her perceived accomplishments and power are the result of an artificially constructed brand.
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