Everyone lately has been trying to find a way to summarize the accumulated atrocities of the Trump administration without just copy-pasting three years’ worth of old stories. The New York Times and the Washington Post did it by packaging microscopic incremental news as blockbuster revelations: the Times reported that when Trump had publicly interfered with the investigation into his Russian connections, at a time when Russian election interference was known to be the subject of a counterintelligence investigation, the FBI had viewed that as obstruction of a counterintelligence investigation; the Post reported that, in the course of the president’s widely reported informal meetings and conversations with Vladimir Putin, for which the president was known to have ignored diplomatic and security protocol and from which he was known to have excluded his advisors, Trump had also suppressed his translator’s notes.
The Atlantic tried doing it by outright saying what it was doing, with a package called “Unthinkable,” presented as a roundup of “50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency.” It made sense: take the endless stories speeding by—any one of which might previously have brought all other news to a halt, if not ended a presidency—and showcase them all in one place, to remind everyone what they’ve forgotten and to provide a sense of the collective enormity of the scandals.
But that perfectly useful theory—no one should forget the Turkish goon squad beating up protesters in Washington, D.C., or the paper-towel-chucking visit to Puerto Rico—didn’t quite work in practice. The conceit was that the 50 events were written up by 50 different writers, which meant that 50 different individual people had to try to break out of the blurry mass of Trump news to say something clear. Some could; James Parker’s writeup of the day Trump touched the Orb perfectly caught the spirit of the scene’s “life-draining, futuristic, departure-lounge tawdriness.”
Others, however, couldn’t find their way through the received wisdom and news fatigue. The results were as demoralizing as the original coverage had been: Tom Nichols grumbling about Trump’s hostility to expertise; David French using Trump’s praise of Greg Gianforte as the jumping-off point for explaining about how real conservative men used to be the sheepdogs protecting the American public (the sheep).
And then, wandering utterly lost, there was Caitlin Flanagan, trying and failing to say anything about Ivanka Trump. “Ivanka Trump remains as much of a mystery as ever,” Flanagan wrote, giving up on the assignment in the very first sentence. Ivanka Trump remains a mystery only if you still, after two years, insist on believing the hollow, glossy package of imagined attributes sent out into the world as “Ivanka Trump” bears any relationship to the person of Donald Trump’s elder daughter.
Flanagan evidently does, so the piece fretted over the same old ersatz puzzles the Ivanka package has always presented to the incurious: Ivanka is “known as a good dinner partner, interesting and interested, her golden beauty enhanced by candlelight and crystal,” yet she is loyal to her vulgarian brute of a father; Ivanka offered the promise of being “a flag planted in the ground of reason and sanity,” yet she cannot make the president change course. What does Ivanka want?
Oddly, given her insistence on being a thoroughly modern woman, she wants greater power for her husband, who is Trump’s very opposite: personally disciplined, loath to speak in public, willowy, deeply committed to making his one marriage last.
Right there, in the wildly untrue account of Jared Kushner, is the key to unlocking the reality of Ivanka Trump. Jared Kushner is not the very opposite of Donald Trump; he is the dimwitted but Ivy-credentialed son of a ruthless scumbag real estate baron, who successfully passed himself off as an independent go-getter while depending on (and mishandling) his family’s fortune. Jared Kushner is Donald Trump with a different media brand strategy. And so is Ivanka.
Here’s a news story about Ivanka Trump for a roundup of the things nobody could properly pay attention to: in a world only slightly less corrupt than the one we live in, she would have already gone to prison for real estate fraud. Before she was saying vaguely liberal things but not really meaning them, she was announcing that a failing condo project had sold 60 percent of its units, even as it was struggling to clear the 15 percent threshold below which sales would be canceled. Whatever other family psychodrama may or may not be in the picture, the true reason she’s Daddy’s girl is that she’s a third-generation crook and liar in a family business built on crime. Everyone wants her to be Michael Corleone in heels; all she is is John Gotti Jr.