‘I don't know that the critics who say I am complicit, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I am doing’
I have found myself unhealthily fascinated by Ivanka Trump’s Instagram account in the seven months since her father Donald Trump officially took office.
Through every political hand grenade Trump Senior has lobbed from the Oval Office – his controversial immigration ban, sacking FBI director James Comey amid a growing Russian collusion scandal, threatening to remove healthcare from 20 million Americans – Ivanka has kept up a consistently sunny picture of life in Washington: shots of her children skipping across the White House lawn, ‘go get ’em’ feminist quotes and round table photo ops with world leaders to prop up the flawed pro-women agenda she first began to peddle in her tone deaf book, Women Who Work.
A few of these posts have landed Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner in hot water, including a badly timed ‘date night’ shot and glimpses of a million-dollar art collection the couple had apparently failed to disclose in financial documents.
But more than anything else, I’m fascinated by the account as a potential window into the mind of a woman arguably closer to the President than his own wife, and whose work at the forefront of his election campaign last year presented a tiny sliver of hope that a Trump Presidency could be tempered by her more liberal influence.
All hope of that has of course long vanished, and Trump’s comments following last weekend’s events in Charlottesville not only serve to underline his daughter’s toothless influence on him, but his direct betrayal of her own community puts her in a more exposed position than ever before.
Ivanka met property developer-turned-White House advisor Jared Kushner in 2005 and completed an Orthodox conversion to Judaism before their marriage in 2009. Since then she has reportedly kept a kosher diet and observes Shabbat each weekend, beginning at sunset on a Friday when she and Kushner switch their phones off for 25 hours.
After a group of neo-Nazis marched into Charlottesville last Friday holding torches and shouting, ‘Jews will not replace us’, leading to Saturday clashes that culminated in the tragic death of protestor Heather Heyer, Ivanka was among those who tweeted her dismay at the violence. ‘There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis’ she wrote, ‘We must all come together as Americans – and be one country UNITED.’
But then, in an extraordinary press conference on Tuesday, her father doubled down on his view that the protests were a result of violence ‘on both sides’ (‘You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now’), a position that has drawn widespread condemnation, even prompting a joint statement from former Republican Presidents George Bush and George Bush Sr.
This is not the first time Trump’s policy decisions have made an apparent mockery of his daughter’s views – reports suggest her husband Jared Kushner has been privately furious with his father-in-law more than once – but his actions this week cut to a more personal level than, for example, reversing U.S policy on climate change. On Wednesday Rabbi Emeritus Haskel Lookstein, who oversaw Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism and was previously invited by the Trumps to speak at the Republican National Convention, released a letter saying he and his successors Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz and Rabbi Elie Weinstock were ‘appalled by this resurgence of bigotry and antisemitism, and the renewed vigor of the neo-Nazis, KKK, and alt-right.’
‘While we avoid politics’ the letter continued, ‘we are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence.’
Ivanka, currently on holiday with her husband in Vermont, has remained silent in the wake of Trump’s comments, though did take to Twitter to congratulate her father’s newly appointed Communications Director, Hope Hicks. What must she be thinking, married to the grandson of a holocaust survivor, watching Trump draw not only direct criticism from her own community leaders, but garner praise once again from one of America’s most high profile antisemites, former KKK founder David Duke?
‘I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence,’ Ivanka told CBS new anchor Gayle King back in April, when asked why she hadn’t fought back harder against her father on issues she claims to care about. ‘In some cases it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue in which you disagree with. Other times it is quietly, and directly, and candidly.’
In the same interview she addressed the frequent accusation that she is ‘complicit’. ‘I don’t know that the critics who may say that I am, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I am doing.’
Ivanka didn’t have to take a job at the White House. She could have stayed in New York to expand her fashion empire, or taken over the family business as her brothers have done. The ‘unique situation’ she describes – as both daughter and paid-up member of Trump’s White House staff – is one she has chosen for herself. Earlier this year Ivanka felt qualified to represent her country by taking Trump’s place at a G20 meeting. If you’re going to take a seat at the table then perhaps ‘quiet’ and ‘candid’ conversations aren’t always enough. On this issue, one so painfully close to home, she needs to speak up, before she loses what little credibility she has left.