Ivanka’s dreamworld

Ivanka Trump’s life of privilege undermines the credibility of her new book’s message

BY JAMES HOHMANN with Breanne Deppisch – May 7th, 2017


THE BIG IDEA: Ivanka Trump’s new book unwittingly reveals just how out of touch she is with the lives of the working women who she believes she speaks for.

— President Trump dubiously claimed during the campaign that he was a self-made man. “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars,” he told NBC during a 2015 interview, which he insisted he paid back with interest. “A million dollars isn’t very much compared to what I built!” During a primary debate, when Marco Rubio claimed that he had received a $200 million inheritance from his father, Trump replied angrily: “I took $1 million and I turned it into $10 billion.”

Every fact checker faulted Trump for not giving his father enough credit, for downplaying the connections and the resources he received from the family business. Court documents revealed that the candidate was omitting vastly larger loans and gifts he received over the years. His pop also bailed him out when his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt.

— The first daughter (now a White House official) also talks at times as if she is a self-made millionaire. “It wasn’t until I built my own business from the ground up that I understood the vastness of launching your own enterprise,” Ivanka Trump, referring to her fashion brand, writes in “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.” “Undeniably, one factor in my success has been the doors that my family’s name and privileged upbringing have opened … But they alone didn’t guarantee my success. … Curiosity, passion, hard work and perseverance have enabled me to prove my value to myself and others beyond my surname. … Anyone who knows me knows that I will outwork anyone…

“My father has always said, if you love what you do, and work really, really hard, you will succeed,” she adds. “This is a fundamental principle of creating and perpetuating a culture of success, and also a guiding light for me personally.”

— For millions of folks in the Rust Belt – the people who delivered the White House to the Trumps – it is not a matter of “curiosity, passion, hard work and perseverance.” Working hard was not enough to keep the General Motors plant open in Janesville, Wisconsin. Being passionate isn’t enough to keep coal mines churning in West Virginia. Curiosity is not going to bring back manufacturing jobs to Ohio. (Those people also don’t have government employees promoting their products on cable and Twitter.)

— Ivanka’s 243-page manuscript, written before the election, has an ambitious goal. She sees herself as a role model who can help others navigate the difficulties of raising children and climbing the corporate ladder. “The time to change the narrative around women and work once and for all is long overdue; in fact, it’s become my life’s mission,” she declares in the introduction.

Some may welcome this. But in dispensing advice for how working women can succeed, the 35-year-old often relays anecdotes that unintentionally highlight all the special breaks she’s gotten along the way. These are advantages average Americans could never even dream of.

— Encouraging people to pursue jobs that they’re passionate about, Ivanka recalls receiving a cold call from the editor in chief of Vogue Magazine when she was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania: “Early one morning during finals, the phone rang. … I answered, groggy, knowing that no one would call a college student at 8 a.m. unless it was really important. It was Anna Wintour … Anna is someone I have always admired; we met when I’d done modeling as a teenager. … She heard I was graduating soon. … She wanted to offer me a job … I knew working with Anna at Vogue could positively influence my career in a big way … But I’d already given my word to (another employer).”

Ivanka turned down the job, then called her dad. She became mad when he told her she should consider it: “I was shocked that he would encourage me to consider anything other than real estate; for so long, it was all we discussed. I was unnerved by the conversation and started to wonder if my father didn’t want me to eventually join the family business. I worried that he doubted my abilities as a developer. On the day of my graduation, I grilled him on his response. He said he didn’t doubt me. He only wanted me to carefully consider the job at Vogue to be sure that I was, in fact, serious about real estate.” The point of this story is not to reveal how crazy it is that Wintour offered her a job this way but to encourage readers not to let themselves get distracted from what they are most passionate about.

— She planned to work outside the family business for “a while” after college. But Ivanka made it just 12 months before going to work for Donald at Trump Tower. In a subsequent chapter on “seizing opportunities,” she recounts her decision to launch a fine jewelry collection in 2007.

Giving advice about how to start a business, Ivanka reveals how she got help from all the most powerful players in the industry: “When I had the idea for my brand, I realized I was going to have a much steeper learning curve in fashion than I did in real estate, which I had been exposed to my whole life. So I was proactive and met with people in the industry who had created or worked at companies I respected – Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klein, of the established players; Warby Parker, Reformation, and Everlane, of the new guard, to name a few. I sought out their wisdom and experience in trying to understand a business that I had never planned on entering and pepped them with questions about design, product, teams, business models, and infrastructure.”

I don’t think it is going too far out on a limb to speculate that most would-be entrepreneurs reading Ivanka’s book probably couldn’t schedule sit-downs with Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klein to pick their brains about starting a fashion label. She also offhandedly notes that the whole thing started with a connection she made through her dad’s company: “I had been at The Trump Organization for about two years when I met a potential partner in real estate who had long-standing ties to the jewelry industry.”

— Her attempts to humanize herself only reinforce the degree to which Ivanka is part of the 0.1 percent. Encouraging women to regularly bring their kids with them to work, for instance, the author nonchalantly reveals that that she has two offices: “I had a standing lunch date every Wednesday with Arabella every Wednesday before she started Kindergarten. She came into the office – she prefers my Ivanka Trump office to my real estate one, in part because it has a kids’ desk that folds out of the wall, complete with treats, toys, colored pencils, and markers. We’d play for a bit … Then we’d go downstairs to the Trump Grill for lunch.”

“In a traditional setting,” she adds, “I might feel uncomfortable if my boss heard me FaceTiming with my son or saw him in my office, eating ice cream midday.”

But she works for her dad and has her own “brand,” so it’s no big deal. “I remember at the beginning of my career I would feel self-conscious if I had to leave work early,” Ivanka admits later. “I’d say I had a meeting when really I had a doctor’s appointment. I’ve stopped doing this, in part because I’ve achieved a higher level of seniority…”

— The first daughter repeatedly dishes out guidance on subjects it’s not clear she has meaningful experience with, such as how to ask for a promotion, “resign gracefully” and negotiate a good severance package. She has a whole section advising females to hire recruiters to help them find jobs: “A recruiter can also be a valuable advocate in breaking through the glass ceiling, which, unfortunately, still exists. It’s far better here in America than in much of the world, but we’ve still got a long way to go.” (Hillary Clinton would probably say amen to that.)

After offering five pieces of advice for women who take maternity leave, she opens up about her own struggle – with whether to post pictures of her children on social media: “I didn’t share a single picture of Arabella publicly until after her first birthday, at which point the paparazzi snapped a photo of us at the airport. I didn’t want the first photo of my daughter to be sold to the press, so I posted an image myself on one of my social media accounts. … Knowing my family was in the spotlight, I decided I was going to embrace it.”

This is a problem most women would prefer to the ones they deal with every day. It is certainly less nerve-wracking than working two jobs as a single mother, depending on spotty public transportation, worrying about being able to pay the daycare bill and stressing that legislation moving through Congress may mean your child cannot get health insurance because of a preexisting condition.

To be sure, Ivanka faces other challenges that some of these women may not: She confesses that her guilty pleasure is eating a giant bowl of pasta while drinking wine and watching “Real Housewives.” “But if I’m honest with myself, it’s kind of counterproductive,” she laments. “It is in these moments especially that we should meditate, soak in the tub, exercise or take a long walk. … Prioritize the appointment with yourself as if it were with your boss, client, child, or partner.”

— Ivanka is tone deaf in other ways, as well:

She quotes Nelson Mandela talking about apartheid in South Africa (“It always seems impossible until it’s done”) to urge women to request flextime from their supervisors.

Then she quotes Toni Morrison writing about an enslaved woman in the novel “Beloved” to tee up some very conventional advice for improving time management skills so that working women are no longer slaves to their schedules: “Bit by bit … she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

But at least Morrison and Mandela uttered the words attributed to them: On page 179, Ivanka opens a section on how to “Lead with purpose from any level” with a fake quote from John Quincy Adams. She claims our sixth president said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Anyone who has read even a single letter by JQA knows that this neither captures his worldview nor sounds anything like him. Ironically, the president tweeted this same fake quote two years ago:

— A good writer she is not. If you are actually thinking about buying this book or giving it as a gift to someone, check out the turgid sentences below for a taste of what trying to read Ivanka is like. Note the use of “architect” as a verb (she does this repeatedly):

  • From the introduction: “While I believe every woman should thoughtfully architect a life she’ll love and actively work toward achieving her goals, we must also be flexible, adaptable, and realistic about the fact that our passions, interests, priorities and relationships shift. Along with cementing the critical skills that are essential for any leader to thrive, in the pages that follow, I’ll guide you through a framework for constructing a blueprint for your life that uniquely reflects what matters most to you, and is yours to modify as often as you feel the need. … The value of rest, the importance of creating mental space, and the brain-boosting benefit of hobbies are explored, as are the concepts of connecting with and centering yourself so that you learn to maximize your efficiency and boost your productivity, leaving time for what you really love to do.”
  • Chapter one: “I personally love the word ‘curious.’ I identify with it quite a bit because I am deeply curious, and that’s how I develop my interest in the things that ultimately turn into passions for me. … TED Talks and podcasts are another way I diversify my own information bias and expose myself to bite-sized, snackable bits of information on topics — like, say, neuroscience – that I’m never going to read a whole book on but are mind expanding and may trigger an idea.”
  • Chapter three: “At Ivanka Trump, my team and I are striving to create the lives we want to live.”
  • Chapter six: “I am enormously proud of the success of my brand, but apparel, accessories, and footwear are more the ‘what’ to the ‘why’ of my mission – to inspire and empower women to create the lives they want to live. … Purposefully creating an authentic, meaningful narrative enhances employee engagement and customer commitment; those who are clear about their company’s mission feel they are a part of something important, something larger than themselves, and something they deeply believe in. This is what provides the foundational passion – the quintessential building blocks – for inspiring leaders at every level of your organization, who will together help to disrupt the dialogue around women and work.”

“– The bottom line: People like Ivanka have always had a leg up. The system has always been rigged to tilt the playing field toward the privileged and the well-connected. But reading this book and watching her wield such immense influence in a powerful West Wing role that she could never have landed if her dad was not the president, we cannot escape the hard truth that the United States is becoming less of a meritocracy than it used to be.As she boasts about the Trump International in D.C., Ivanka expresses hopes that her six-year-old daughter eventually follows her into the family business. “I can envision Arabella overseeing this hotel someday,” she writes in the book. “If she chooses!”

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