Ivanka, your em­pa­thy gap is show­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - RUTH MAR­CUS ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

Ivanka Trump’s new book came out this past week, and, what with all the fo­cus on her fa­ther’s step to­ward yank­ing health care from mil­lions of peo­ple and his ful­mi­nat­ing about An­drew Jack­son and the Civil War, “Women Who Work” didn’t re­ceive the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

Okay, maybe it did. As its acer­bic re­view­ers have ob­served, the book is a par­o­dic pas­tiche of the up­per-mid­dle-class-work­ing-mom self-help genre. This is a woman who uses “ar­chi­tect” as a verb — re­peat­edly. As in, “ev­ery woman should thought­fully ar­chi­tect a life she’ll love and ac­tively work to­ward achiev­ing her goals.”

If there is an orig­i­nal thought in the book, it is well-hid­den among new-agey plat­i­tudes (“writ­ing a per­sonal mis­sion state­ment is an in­cred­i­bly valu­able way to be­gin”) and repack­aged wis­dom: Nel­son Man­dela, Sh­eryl Sand­berg, Jane Goodall, more Stephen Covey than any­one should have to reread, a woman who spi­ral­izes veg­eta­bles.

Still, I write to­day not (only) to ridicule the president’s daugh­ter but to im­plore her. Ivanka, you have a uniquely priv­i­leged perch, with the power to com­mand “10 min­utes alone with my fa­ther,” as the New York Times has re­ported.

So could you try, just try, to imag­ine the needs of those who in­habit a world out­side your cos­seted con­fines, and use your Trump-whis­per­ing skills on their be­half ? Say, the kinds of peo­ple who have to worry about find­ing enough money to get food on the table or — even more painfully salient at this mo­ment — af­ford health care for their kids?

The ev­i­dence sug­gests this could be a heavy lift. Em­pa­thy does not seem a Trump fam­ily trait. Ivanka Trump writes of her ex­pe­ri­ence on the cam­paign, “meet­ing the men and women of our great na­tion and lis­ten­ing to their hopes and dreams, their chal­lenges and con­cerns.”

You might think, as Jen­nifer Se­nior ob­served in the Times, that such ex­po­sure might have ex­panded Trump’s un­der­stand­ing of the needs of, say, women who work be­cause they must, not be­cause it lets them ar­chi­tect “a full, mul­ti­di­men­sional life.”

In­stead, Trump treats the cam­paign as part of her jour­ney of self-ac­tu­al­iza­tion: “I have grown tremen­dously as a per­son and the ex­pe­ri­ence has been life chang­ing.” Still, so de­mand­ing were the rig­ors of the cam­paign that she “wasn’t treat­ing my­self to a mas­sage or mak­ing much time for self-care.”

At least from the ev­i­dence of “Women Who Work,” Trump’s un­der­stand­ing of this co­hort is laugh­ably cramped: “We’re train­ing for marathons and learn­ing to code. We’re plan­ning ad­ven­tures with our kids and week­end get­aways with our friends.”

Not, we are tak­ing the bus to two min­i­mum-wage jobs so we can avoid evic­tion.

Tacked on at the end of the book, just be­fore the re­fer­ral to ad­di­tional TED talks and self-help man­u­als, is a nod to the prob­lems con­fronting sin­gle moth­ers in low-wage jobs and the need for af­ford­able child care and paid ma­ter­nity leave. Per­haps it is un­fair to ex­pect more from what is a fluffy pub­lic­ity ex­er­cise, not a se­ri­ous pol­icy pre­scrip­tion. But if the qual­ity of think­ing and depth of knowl­edge evinced by this book are any guide, heaven help us.

The ar­gu­ment for swal­low­ing the in­her­ent dis­taste­ful­ness, if not out­right brand­build­ing grifti­ness, of hav­ing Jared Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump in the White House is that they are be­hind-the-scenes ad­vo­cates for mod­er­a­tion. If they are un­pre­pared ex­cept by ac­ci­dent of birth and mar­riage for such ex­alted roles, at least they are a pow­er­ful coun­ter­vail­ing voice to the forces of Ban­non­ist na­tion­al­ism.

Trump told the Times that she was learn­ing “to be a much more proac­tive voice inside the White House,” coyly sug­gest­ing that even if she loses a pol­icy de­bate, she may have value at the mar­gin: “Maybe along the way I’ve mod­i­fied a po­si­tion just slightly. And that’s just great.”

How great? Look at this past week. Yes, President Trump may have backed off from an of­fen­sive or­der cur­tail­ing gay rights. But there was the president re­joic­ing in House pas­sage of a mea­sure that would cause mil­lions to lose health cov­er­age.

And the week brought news that the president has in­stalled, to over­see the fed­eral fam­ily plan­ning pro­gram, a woman who ap­par­ently be­lieves nei­ther in the mis­sion of her of­fice (“fam­ily plan­ning is some­thing that oc­curs be­tween a hus­band and a wife and God”) nor in birth con­trol it­self (“con­tra­cep­tion doesn’t work”).

Maybe it’s time for Ivanka Trump to take her own ad­vice. “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” she coun­sels read­ers. But also, “Be pre­pared to walk away.” Is she asking? So she would have us be­lieve. Is she pre­pared to walk away? Doesn’t look like it.


Ivanka Trump in the Rose Gar­den at the White House on April 5.

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