Ivanka Trump’s ‘let them eat cake’ approach to unemployment

Edward Luce: The ‘first daughter’ should get an award for misunderstanding economics

America's National Association of Manufacturers gave Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, its prestigious Alexander Hamilton award this year. "Like no one in government has ever done, she has provided singular leadership and shown an unwavering commitment to manufacturing," said the industry group, in what ought to have earned it the Order of Sycophancy.

This week, America’s self-named First Daughter urged the US’s almost 30 million unemployed to “find something new”. Learn another skill, Trump advised. Look for a different job.

Four years after Donald Trump vowed to elevate the forgotten American, his daughter is interfering with the script. If there were an award for misunderstanding economics, Ms Trump should receive it. No one wants to hear they are to blame for being unemployed.

In April the US lost a record 20.5 million jobs. This did not mean that 20 milloon Americans had suddenly lost their skills. It meant the US economy had been put into lockdown. As a benchmark of disconnectedness, Marie Antoinette could hardly have done better.


America’s hereditary meritocracy spans all elites – liberal and conservative. What marks Ivanka Trump out is the scale of her platform to offer life advice to the world

Trump's outsized role in American life epitomises more than just her father's administration. She is little different to close relatives of many wealthy Americans who have mistaken their inheritance for a licence to lecture those less fortunate. It is not Trump's misreading of the jobs market that sets her apart. It is the fact that she and Jared Kushner, her husband, are the US president's closest advisers.

Her role extends far beyond US workforce training. After the tear gas had cleared from Lafayette Square last month, Trump took a Bible from her $1,540 Max Mara handbag and handed it to her father. Amid America’s most tense racial protests in years, the photo-op captured an administration that had no grasp of how to address the country’s divisions.

It was Trump’s idea that her father wave a Bible in front of the nearest church. Amid fierce competition, that image may go down as the most dystopian in Donald Trump’s presidency. His daughter’s advice may even have been well-intended. The road to perdition is paved with such gestures.

Legacy students

The awkward part for many of America’s anti-Trump elites is that the first daughter and first son-in-law are not so far removed from who they are. Trump and her older brother, Donald Jnr, were admitted to the University of Pennsylvania after her father had pledged a $1.4 million gift. Both were legacy students – their father went to the same school.

Kushner was admitted to Harvard after his father, Charles, had donated $2.5 million. These are familiar stories. A study last week showed that 43 per cent of Harvard’s white undergraduates were legacy students, children of donors or staff, or athletics scholars.

America's hereditary meritocracy spans all elites – liberal and conservative. What marks Trump out is the scale of her platform to offer life advice to the world. Last month, she was disinvited from giving the commencement address to Wichita State University after a backlash following George Floyd's killing.

Complaining of “cancel culture”, Trump released her recorded speech anyway. Much of it could have been given by any well-meaning scion of any wealthy family. She advised the graduating students to be kind to strangers, practise meditation and pray.

She also urged the students to pick up new skills online. University was not for everyone, she said. Some people were just not cut out for a four-year “one-size-fits-all” college degree.

Her speech could easily have been given by the head of any family trust. The message rarely differs. “In this pandemic, people need to learn a completely new skill,” Ms Trump said this week.

It would be tempting to treat Trump’s “find something new” campaign as a Freudian slip about her father’s job. The election is only four months away. To judge by the polls, America’s voters want to find a new president. But there is nothing unusual in her philosophy about jobs.

Trump has never had to find one in her life. After graduating, she worked for her father’s business. Then she set up a paternally funded fashion line. Finally, she landed a job as a senior adviser to the president, who also happened to be her father. Much the same story applies to Kushner.

The moral of their tale goes deeper than Donald Trump. He may be thrown out of office in November. His daughter’s lecturing will go on. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020