Last night, a crowd bearing LED candles and artistically rendered political protest signs gathered on the corner of a downtown Manhattan block and collectively marched back and forth in front of the Puck Building, all working together to do one thing: Send a message to Ivanka Trump, asking her to take a stand against her father, the President-elect.
In the weeks since the presidential election which shocked many millions of Americans and virtually all New Yorkers, protests both small and large have become a fact of life in many big cities around the country. In New York City, specifically, there have been several instances of major thoroughfares shut down due to thousands of outraged people marching in protest of Donald Trump, there have been community gatherings (which have drawn thousands) after playgrounds were covered with swastikas following the election, there have been beautiful installations in subway stations of notes people have written as signs of hope for fellow New Yorkers. This type of collective organization serves a multitude of purposes, not least of which is that it sends a very public message about what is and is not acceptable to huge numbers of Americans.
Most of these messages have been understandably directed toward President-elect Donald Trump; he is the one who has been appointing white supremacists to key positions in his presumptive administration; he is the one going on manic Twitter rants; he is the one who has suggested that there was rampant fraud on election day. And yet if there is one thing that’s clear about Donald Trump, it’s that he doesn’t listen to criticism; rather, he will seek out even the most random voices of praise and then, well, manually retweet them.
When it comes to people with more than 123 Twitter followers, though, one of the few to whom Donald Trump actually listens to is his daughter, Ivanka. This, then, is why last night’s protest and an accompanying Instagram account, titled Dear Ivanka, targeted Ivanka; this is why the protesters convened in front of a building owned and operated by Kushner Companies, the real estate firm run by Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner.
Prior to the protest, the people behind Dear Ivanka also released a letter that they wrote to her, in which they appeal to Ivanka as fellow New Yorkers and ask that, as “an official member of your father’s transition team,” Ivanka employ “rationality” and stay true to her “commitment to protecting the rights of all Americans, especially women and children.” The letter includes notes which the protestors had collected from members of their community, concerning things like bias-based attacks, fear of climate change, and worries over possible deportation; it ends with a plea to both Ivanka and Jared to greet the protest and its demands with an “open mind” and says that they are “counting on [the] support” of the Trump-Kushners in bringing their concerns to the President-elect.
The protest and the Instagram account were organized by a group of very well-known artists (including Marilyn Minter, Cecily Brown, Dan Colen, and Cindy Sherman), creatives, and others, many of whom have interacted with Ivanka socially, several of whom have sold works to her in the past. An Instagram caption on a photo of Minter even notes that Ivanka and Jared have visited Minter’s studio. The intimacy—some would say incestuousness—of the New York social scene is well-recorded; it is no surprise that prominent creative figures would have had close interactions with the city’s wealthiest patrons—that goes along with the territory. What is perhaps more surprising is the notion that simply because Ivanka is someone with whom these people have shared congenial small talk, and whose children might go to the same schools as theirs, and who might have a real appreciation of art and design, that does not mean that Ivanka is anything other than, as she once self-described in her 2009 book, The Trump Card, a “daddy’s girl.
If there’s one thing Ivanka has proven over and over again throughout her father’s campaign and then after his victory is that she supports him completely and unreservedly. Months ago, I wrote about Ivanka being a potentially more dangerous figure than her father, because while he is a ranting and raving blowhard who can’t open his mouth without putting his foot in it, she presents as rational and well-intentioned—“so smart, so pretty, so... in control”—woman you want to trust, the kind you’re programmed to like. Yes, Ivanka’s beautifully curated Instagram life—all done in a palette of gorgeous whites and grays—is far more appealing to a certain group of New Yorkers than her father’s garish gold fortress. But both Ivanka’s and her father’s lives are founded on the same thing: a rapacious, ego-driven desire to earn money and build themselves as brands, no matter the cost to others. Ivanka has never pretended differently; in Jia Tolentino’s excellent look at The Trump Card, Tolentino related an illuminating incident from Ivanka’s childhood:
When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.” In another early business story, she and her brothers made fake Native American arrowheads, buried them in the woods, dug them up while playing with their friends, and sold the arrowheads to their friends for five dollars each.
It is, of course, commendable to protest Trump in any way, shape, or form at this point; there is no glory in staying quiet during a time of resistance. But appealing to Ivanka’s “rationality” feels somewhat fraught. This is not to say that Ivanka’s not a rational being. She clearly is; it’s just that the endgame she’s playing is not one in which victory means anything other than the continuation of the Trump brand, and all the profit that will mean. Even if it means hitting up the hired help for lemonade money.