“Surreal” was the word Ivanka Trump used to describe North Korea, which she briefly visited last weekend with dear ol’ dad.
It was the first time an American president had crossed the threshold into the hermit kingdom, where Trump met with his love-letter-writing bro Kim Jong Un. Naturally, Ivanka needed to be there.
It was, indeed, surreal—and not just to the princess. The world watched as the duo, along with the perpetually suspicious-looking Jared Kushner, traveled between the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, and the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea. Ivanka played her role, which apparently was to look so pretty, to speak about women’s empowerment, and to look so pretty.
She’s a showstopper, to be sure, and doubtless good company on the president’s travels. She’s been at his side since she was a little girl, after all, attending balls and premieres, stylishly dressed and comfortable in the public milieu. And perhaps the president felt he needed a female presence to fill the void of first lady Melania Trump’s absence.
Ivanka was appreciatively received during a visit to South Korea’s Osan Air Base, but not so much in Osaka, it seemed. Except for the speech she was to deliver, Ivanka looked weirdly out of place everywhere she appeared, which was everywhere. She’s a daughter, not a diplomat (except in a pretend world) or head of state. Yet she waltzed into meetings and conversations as though she were. Technically, Ivanka is an adviser to the president, but what does that mean in reality?
Trump may have been amused by his daughter’s high-profile participation, but not everyone was. In a memorable moment captured on video in Osaka, Ivanka awkwardly joined a group of world leaders deep in conversation. They were Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Theresa May, International Monetary Fund president Christine Lagarde and French President Emmanuel Macron—not precisely Ivanka’s peer group, but chutzpah seems to be a family trait.
Lagarde was nodding her head as May said, “As soon as you charge them with that economic aspect of it, a lot of people start listening who otherwise wouldn’t listen.” Whereupon, a smiling Ivanka interjected:
“And the same with the defense side of it, in terms of the whole business that’s been, sort of, male-dominated.”
Lagarde’s expression, combined with her pursed lips, was devastating commentary. Then the fun began. The video went viral and suddenly Ivanka was being artificially photobombed into the historical record, placing her in famous and fictional events—at Yalta with President Franklin Roosevelt, on the soccer field with Megan Rapinoe, treading the icy waters with Jack and Rose in “Titanic.”
But more satirical than the phony images were the real ones. Repeatedly, Ivanka appeared to have been airdropped into situations and places she didn’t belong. In a thought cloud above Lagarde’s head, I imagined her thinking, “What the hell is she doing here?” To that point, what was the president thinking?
In a word, branding.
Or so it is reasonable to surmise. Branding is what Trump is always doing in the guise of diplomacy. And it’s what he would have his daughter do in preparation for her post-presidency years. Though it’s not clear that Ivanka wants to run for president, as her father has suggested, she might enjoy a top diplomatic post, as he has also hinted.
To someone like Donald Trump, showing off—or should we say displaying—Ivanka to the world is a golden marketing opportunity. If his ultimate goal is to promote the Trump brand and the children who will carry it forward, why not take advantage of such opportunities? Who cares, anyway?
Everybody, it seems, except the see-nothing Trump base. The father-daughter team isn’t merely off-putting for its transparent use of the office of the presidency to advance future, personal gain but for what it signals to the world: This is not a serious White House.
Neither half of the “Javanka” juggernaut came to the White House with any especially relevant skills, yet both have security clearances and Kushner, a real estate scion, was assigned the task of securing Middle East peace. Ivanka, whose resume includes modeling and creating a clothing business, has seemingly now evolved from adviser (wear the purple tie?) to diplomat to ... whatever her heart desires.
Presumably, she and her husband enjoy job security, but one fantasizes about photoshopping them back home to New York—or wherever they choose—and declaring this dreadful reality show a wrap.