I recently heard a group of civil liberties activists crediting Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner for putting a hold on an executive order that would give a right to discriminate against LGBT people — either by revoking President Obama's antidiscrimination order for federal contractors or putting in place a so-called religious freedom order. This is wide of the mark. The only things stopping Trump from feeding LGBT rights to the homophobic cravings of the religious right are the last shards of political sanity remaining in this administration. Someone must have remembered what happened in Indiana when the state’s then-governor, Mike Pence, tried to give the religious right the “liberty” it demands. It knocked Indiana’s brand down, as businesses threatened to pull their operations from the state.
The temporary pause on the hate button, in any case, is all about optics. It has not stopped the “religious liberty” lobby from pushing “license to discriminate” bills in state legislatures or tempered Donald Trump’s promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which would allow anti-LGBT churches to operate as tax-free political action groups.
If Ivanka has been talking love-thy-neighbor with dad, there is no evidence that it’s working. Muslim bans, a racist attorney general, a white supremacist running the shop, a phony border wall, and a Supreme Court nominee who believes that LGBT and women’s rights are subordinate to “religious liberty” — where in all this was the dulcet voice of our cosmopolitan princess?
We got a taste of how the Ivanka fantasy worked during the campaign. Ivanka doesn’t just fail to stop the monster; she enables him. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say, “Trump can’t really mean what he says,” because they’d look at Ivanka and decide that no one with a daughter like that could believe the things he says he believes. Women voters, asked to explain their support for Trump, over and over again pointed to Ivanka’s polished image. It proved to be an excellent way to distract attention from the fact that they were supporting a demagogue.
There is every reason to think that Ivanka is like everyone else in the clan. She is in it for the “brand.” What kind of person shows up at the Republican convention — where her father is asking for the awesome responsibility of leading the free world — and sees this as an opportunity to hawk her line of clothing? Or uses the president’s first interview after the election to market her brand of jewelry? And do we really think that she had nothing to do with Trump’s effort to use the powers of the presidency to punish Nordstrom for dropping her line? When Kellyanne Conway, who is now a federal employee, goes on national TV and exhorts us to “buy Ivanka,”who really thinks that the dreams of our ambitious czarina have nothing to do with it?
There’s a lie here that’s so big, it’s just hard to believe that you’re seeing it: Donald supposedly has no interest in his brand. That was the point of setting up a “blind” trust. On paper Ivanka is excluded from Trump Organization management, so she allegedly has no interest in the brand either. Does anybody really believe that? It couldn’t be more obvious that father and daughter are intensely interested in their own brands, and they understand that it is the same brand: What’s good for Donald is good for Ivanka and vice versa. Whether it is good for America is totally irrelevant to them.
This is what they don’t tell you in the fairy tales: the princess is part of the problem. They’ve been part of the kleptocratic package ever since the pharaohs put those swanky blue-and-gold crowns on their heads and married their sisters. Royal houses are always divided internally, and the people on the outside always place their hopes in playing one faction off the other. But at the end of the day, everybody loses, except the royal family. As America’s founders understood very well, corruption isn’t an accident in a monarchy. It is of the essence of the system.
KATHERINE STEWART is the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children.