Ivanka’s new White House role raises eyebrows
She has been called “the real power behind the throne”. As Ivanka Trump prepares to move into the White House, some question whether the president should be keeping his family so close …
On Friday, Donald Trump and Angela Merkel — the West’s two most powerful politicians — met at the White House. But it was a third figure in the room who made headlines.
Ivanka Trump is now a familiar face at summits with global leaders. The president’s favourite child is one of his closest advisers; on Monday, her attorney announced that she will soon have her own office in the White House. Her role is unclear: Unlike her husband Jared Kushner (a senior adviser to the president), she will not technically be employed by the government. But her influence is beyond doubt.
The first daughter’s position, like Kushner’s, raises questions about everything from her personal beliefs to her business interests. Most fundamentally, it brings up the age-old issue of nepotism. Ivanka, many feel, has been fast-tracked to power simply because the president is her father.
“Nepotism” has always been a dirty word in the USA. Resentful of the favouritism they perceived within the British imperial hierarchy, the Founding Fathers tried to create a more meritocratic society. Over time, the privilege of family ties was weakened by laws ranging from Jefferson’s inheritance reforms to the Civil Rights Act.
Yet nepotism has persisted. John Adams and John F. Kennedy both appointed relatives to key positions. The practice is also widespread in business, in everything from family-run funeral parlours to the Murdoch media empire. Donald Trump himself inherited money and connections from his father, a property developer.
As writer Adam Bellow puts it: “Occupational traditions within families are very much a part of our national fabric.” Bellow argues that nepotism has its upsides: It helps preserve trades across generations, creates trust within businesses, and encourages a sense of debt and humility that is preferable to the ruthlessness of a pure meritocracy.
According to Bellow, nepotism is a fact of life. It is certainly a fact of the Trump administration. Is it really all that bad?
Like father, like daughter
Not at all, say some. Children are immersed in their parents’ world from a young age, and so are often qualified to pursue the same profession. And they often work especially hard so as to defend themselves against charges of unfairness. Even the liberal media praises Ivanka’s leadership qualities; her role as an adviser makes sense.
That is disingenuous, say others. A boss’s child may be qualified, but so are many others who are not well connected enough to get to prove it. And if the child sucks at the job, they are less likely to be fired. Nepotism is counterproductive and unfair. Ivanka preaches about women’s rights, but she clearly does not believe in true equality.
- If you ran your own company, would you allow people from the same family (including married couples) to work there? Why (not)?
- Will Ivanka Trump influence the government for better or worse?
- Write a résumé for Ivanka Trump.
- As a class, debate whether she would be qualified to advise a president on the strength of her résumé alone.
Some People Say...
“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”— George Santayana
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That Ivanka’s role is legal. A 1967 law prohibits federal officials from appointing relatives to their agency. But in January, the Justice Department ruled that Kushner’s appointment was OK, as the White House is not an “agency.” In any case, Ivanka hasn’t officially been employed.
- What don’t we know?
- What Ivanka’s duties will be. Her attorney has said that she will be the president’s “eyes and ears,” and provide wide-ranging advice — which is pretty vague.
- What do people think?
- The first daughter is generally portrayed as more liberal than her father. She campaigns on gender equality and appears to be concerned about climate change. Many hope she will be a moderating influence on the president, but others believe she is only interested in power and/or self-enrichment.
- Favourite child
- Trump’s other children admitted as much in a 2015 interview on the 20/20 show.
- Business interests
- Ivanka has stepped down from her role within her fashion and jewellery brand, but she will remain its owner. Her interests will be conveyed to a trust, to be run by her brother- and sister-in-law.
- The word was coined to describe the tendency for popes to appoint nephews (some of which were in fact illegitimate sons) to powerful papal offices in the Middle Ages. It comes from nepos, Latin for nephew, nipote in Italian.
- Inheritance reforms
- Jefferson spearheaded the abolition of laws that allowed first-born sons to inherit the entire family estate. Instead, land and property would be divided between children, thus diluting the family’s power.
- Adam Bellow
- Bellow is the author of In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History (published by Doubleday). He is the son of famous novelist Saul Bellow.
- Last April, for example, The Washington Post published a glowing profile of Ivanka headlined: “Donald Trump isn’t even the best presidential candidate in his family.”