The biggest lie about Ivanka Trump just so happens to be the myth she’s most closely associated with.
“Complicit” landed at the very top of Dictionary.com‘s “word of the year” list in 2017 following a Saturday Night Live skit parodying the First Daughter’s silence at the center of the Trump administration. In the style of a fake perfume commercial, SNL claims that the term is synonymous with “the woman who can stop all this but won’t.”
Ivanka certainly hasn’t done much in the first 18 months of her father’s presidency to change the perception that she’s a bystander as America is engulfed by fascism. The self-avowed advocate for women, climate change, and LGBTQ rights failed to speak out after Education Department Betsy DeVos reversed Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault in order to strengthen protections for the accused. When President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement and attempted to ban trans people from serving openly in the military, she couldn’t even muster a tweet of condemnation.
The trouble with labeling Ivanka as someone guilty by association is that her culpability is not indirect at all. “Complicity” suggests that she’s an inactive participant in Trump’s ceaseless dismantling of civil rights — that despite all her intended efforts to do good, she is helpless and facile.
But Ivanka is much, much worse than all that.
Even though the media has deemed her a “moderating influence” in Trump’s White House, the First Daughter has played a calculated role in his presidency from the moment of his inauguration — especially on the issue of LGBTQ equality. The Commander-in-Chief once vowed to be a “friend” to queer and trans people during his 2016 presidential run, and her supposed sway with her father allows him to pretend that was ever the case.
The idea that her role as an unofficial advisor to Trump keeps her father from acting on his worst tendencies dates all the way back to a February 2017 religious freedom order. Just weeks after taking office, the president reportedly flirted with signing a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people in nearly every aspect of public life. Originally leaked by The Nation, the four-page document promised sweeping religious exemptions in housing, employment, education, health care, social services, government contracts, and federal services.
That order, however, was reportedly tabled at the urging of Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner — himself an on-again, off-again advisor to the president. Although the White House denied the report, Politico favorably cited the Kushners’ “record of supporting gay rights.” Ivanka — supposed savior of the gays — took her victory lap with a tweet supporting LGBTQ Pride Month in June. (Hint: It didn’t go well.)
But favorable coverage of Ivanka’s powers of daughterly persuasion disguises the fact that Trump rarely listens to her. His administration is responsible for over 70 attacks against the LGBTQ community since January 2017. Seventy to one is a bad record.
Even the one attack on queer and trans equality she was allegedly able to prevent was far from a success. Rather than issuing a carte blanche in favor of so-called “religious liberty” through a single executive order, his administration has opted for the “death by a thousand cuts” model — by pursuing the same policy in a series of smaller, more subtle decisions.
Months after the president removed compliance standards ensuring federal agencies don’t discriminate against LGBTQ employees, the Department of Justice claimed that queer workers aren’t protected under national civil rights laws. After restructuring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a division devoted to allowing health care workers to discriminate in the name of faith, he signed a “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” which threatens to do the same at other governmental agencies.
The Trump administration has also rolled back protections preventing discrimination against queer and trans people in multiple areas: housing, education, prison, and even homeless shelters. And on top of all that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued his own version of the “religious freedom” order Ivanka supposedly squashed.
So if Ivanka views her job as moving her father to the left on social issues, she’s very bad at it. To paraphrase Lindy West, she doesn’t make her father more moderate on LGBTQ rights — she is selling him as a moderate on LGBTQ rights ahead of a probable reelection campaign. His daughter helps him appeal to the kind of voter who supports same-sex marriage, just as long as the gays don’t ask for too much.
What’s most galling, however, about Ivanka continuing to pretend she’s the Tom Hagen of the Trump administration is that she’s been an extremely effective and oft-deployed tool in the president’s assault on basic civil liberties.
Earlier this month, it came to light that Ivanka donated $50,000 of her personal fortune to an anti-LGBTQ megachurch in Plano, Texas, one that represents the evangelical base Trump hopes will turn out to the polls in 2020. The Prestonwood Baptist Church believes same-sex marriage “violates God’s standard” and refers to queerness as “sexual identity confusion.” After the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015, Pastor Jack Graham pleaded with the Creator to “deliver us from evil.”
In 2015, Graham’s church served as home base for the campaign to repeal Plano’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Calling the ordinance part of the “militant agenda of the radical left,” fliers distributed by petitioners claimed these protections would “criminalize businesses who desire to live their lives and run their businesses according to their conscience.”
Ivanka’s donation was allegedly intended to aid Prestonwood Baptist Church’s work in caring for migrant children detained at the border — amid criticism of Trump’s family separation policy. But when the congregation’s anti-LGBTQ history was exposed, she failed to apologize.
More pressingly, the First Daughter played an active part in goading Justice Anthony Kennedy into stepping down from the Supreme Court. As the New York Times reported, Trump engaged in a months-long campaign urging Kennedy to retire by focusing on the links between their families. Kennedy’s eldest son, Justin, worked as an executive for Deutsche Bank for over a decade, and the president was one of his key clients — taking out more than $1 billion in loans. The younger Kennedy, Gregory, worked as a senior financial adviser for NASA amid the early days of Trump’s nascent administration.
The connection between the Kennedy clan and the Trumps was apparent as early as March 2017, when Trump addressed Congress for the first time. Following the speech, he greeted members of the Supreme Court bench and shared a brief exchange with Justice Kennedy. “Say hello to your boy — special guy,” Trump said. “Your kids have been very nice to him,” the judge responded.
Trump’s children have, indeed, been very nice to the Kennedys — making repeated appearances in order to curry favor with the 81-year-old justice. Ivanka and her daughter, Arabella Kushner, attended the Supreme Court as special guests of Justice Kennedy’s in February 2017 — and Ivanka wore a $325 coat from her own collection. While it’s not extraordinary for members of the First Family to be present for SCOTUS deliberations, NBC News noted it was “rare to see presidential children in the audience.” Artist renderings of the appearance show the two sitting in the VIP section, with Arabella’s head leaning over the seats.
Kennedy reportedly extended the invitation to the mother-daughter duo after sharing lunch following the 2017 inauguration.
If the Times report is true, Ivanka is not complicit in Trump’s attacks on the LGBTQ community — she’s explicit. Kennedy’s retirement has thrown the future of queer and trans rights into upheaval by allowing Trump to stack SCOTUS with a second conservative following Neil Gorsuch. He has nominated D.C. Circuit Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who a Judicial Common Space analysis determined would fall to the right of every member of the Supreme Court except Clarence Thomas.
Although some have predicted that a SCOTUS which includes Kavanaugh would fulfill Trump’s presidential wish of overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, undoing marriage equality in one fell swoop is improbable. Instead the bench would be likely to do just as the current administration has done — allow such victories to be eroded through a series of rollbacks that effectively place same-sex marriages into a lower tier.
This year both Kansas and Oklahoma have passed laws allowing foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples, both of which are poised for legal challenges from local advocacy groups. Texas courts are currently debating whether the married same-sex partners of state employees have the right to benefits.
Both issues may eventually find their way to SCOTUS. Despite his scant record on LGBTQ rights, a justice further to the right than Gorsuch — who argued against same-sex marriage in his dissertation — will scarcely be more favorable on equality.
Ivanka once characterized herself as a good person who now finds herself in a “unique and unprecedented situation.” In conversation with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, the First Daughter — who never expected this role to be thrust upon her — challenged her critics to ask themselves if they “would do any differently than [what she is] doing.” She claimed her hope was merely to “make a positive impact.”
An old saying goes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But if Ivanka is honest with herself, she helped clear the path to Kavanaugh with her own two perfectly manicured hands.