We laugh at Ivanka Trump – because to take her seriously is frightening
The handbag entrepreneur was snubbed by world leaders but is still perfect branding
We have all been there, haven’t we? Standing at the edge of a conversation, pretty in pink, perhaps, hoping to be taken seriously but side-eyed. As most of us have some degree of self-consciousness, we hope the world doesn’t see this happening. But, like her father, the idiot princess Ivanka Trump doesn’t really do embarrassment, so the fact everyone saw the handbag entrepreneur being snubbed by world leaders at the G20 doesn’t really matter. She does sleeves. She does bows. And it was her, not Melania (who has again gone Awol), who walked into North Korea with her father. “Surreal”, she said. Indeed – although the transgressive, poetic power of surrealism is long gone. Surrealism can only disrupt the rational, and we are way past that.
Ivanka, the daughter as wife substitute, travels the world talking about the empowerment of women. I think this means ear-rings. That her fembot ways enable her father to embolden those who will strip women of their rights is disarming but not new. Thuggish men have always used women to soften their images. Asma al-Assad, anyone? What Ivanka does for the Trump regime is branding. Product placement. She is both product and placement, and no one knows quite how to deal with it. World leaders may look awkward when she is placed in the middle of photographs, but they are complicit in allowing this to happen.
Indeed, many of them understand only too well how all this works. Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin and the Saudis especially.
When Putin last week told us the liberal world view was obsolete, people acted as if this was news. He said liberalism “has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population”. We remain in denial of this outlook, or at least hopeful. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, responded by saying that what he finds “really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs”. Well, I wish this were so, but we increasingly see the rise of the unelected. Expertise is so 20th century.
In the UK we see Nigel Farage – never once elected an MP – gain huge power, and we seem about to get a prime minister who is provenly hopeless at international diplomacy, or even basic honesty.
The age of the technocrats – whether Jeremy Hunt or the Miliband formation – is over. Ivanka heads all sorts of departments at the White House, and is in charge of workforce training (whatever that means). Her husband, Jared Kushner, is in charge of the peace process in the Middle East, arranging summits in Bahrain at which no Palestinians are involved at all.
That Ivanka is on some permanent take-your-daughter-to-work day has long been evident. She sat on stage with Angela Merkel in 2017, again to talk about women in the workforce. Last month another woman came forward with a rape allegation about Ivanka’s father, yet the story hardly gained traction at all.
When dynasties come into power the relatives are unsackable. Nepotism matters. Money matters. Connections matter. Qualifications certainly don’t. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out Ivanka’s presence at the G20 the response was a shrug and the usual jibes about AOC having been a bartender. Jobs are apparently for little people.
When no one is held accountable a democracy can become a dictatorship; that is the dividing line. No one elected Ivanka, but here she is, repping the Trump brand. Imagine the Obama girls having done this, if they had reached adulthood while their father was president. There would have been uproar about the constitution. Instead the toxicity of Trump, a patriarchal mobster, is still met with appalled politeness. The British royals prostrated themselves before these low lifes.
This is not participatory democracy in any shape or form. Indeed, the only way we participate is by making memes about this ghastly spectacle on social media. As the French philosopher Guy Debord said, “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.” This is all that matters. This brittle image looks unshatterable. The spectacle does not mind if we laugh at it. It no longer minds that we see its workings. Ivanka is its saleswoman, and she makes a sale every time we see her. We laugh – because to take her seriously is too ugly to contemplate. – Guardian