The Off­spring

We’ve had enough #re­sis­tance he­roes

New York Magazine - - FEA­TURES - By Sarah Jones

For a while, it was James Comey. Then it was Robert Mueller. For a brief mo­ment, the in­ter­net’s lib­eral pun­dits spec­u­lated that per­haps Me­la­nia Trump her­self could be the truth-teller we needed to stand up to Don­ald Trump. But one seem­ingly un­happy mar­riage isn’t the ba­sis for pop­u­lar lib­er­a­tion, and nei­ther, it turns out, are two for­mer di­rec­tors of the FBI. The prayer can­dles and the ru­mor-mon­ger­ing about the pres­i­dent’s im­mi­nent down­fall all came to noth­ing. The re­sis­tance—or at least, the fac­tion that spends al­to­gether too much of its time on­line—rode on in search of a new sav­ior.

It has set­tled on Clau­dia Con­way, the 15-year-old daugh­ter of Ge­orge and Kellyanne Con­way, for­mer coun­selor to the pres­i­dent. When Clau­dia an­nounced on TikTok re­cently that her mother had tested pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus, she also broke a ma­jor news story. One of the pres­i­dent’s chief apol­o­gists had been brought low by her own daugh­ter. Not only did Kellyanne have

covid-19, Clau­dia claimed, she’d lied to her own fam­ily about her di­ag­no­sis. The older Con­way later con­firmed her ill­ness on Twit­ter, one case of many now associated with the Trump White House out­break.

In the days af­ter this ad­mis­sion, Clau­dia re­turned to TikTok to “clar­ify” her orig­i­nal claim about her mother: Kellyanne wasn’t

ly­ing, she now said—she re­ally did test neg­a­tive un­til fi­nally she didn’t. Kellyanne her­self can be heard in the video shout­ing at her daugh­ter. It’s an un­com­fort­able scene, and a re­minder that Clau­dia, for all her in­flu­ence, isn’t old enough to drive.

For jour­nal­ists, this sets up a dilemma. Clau­dia could po­ten­tially be a news­wor­thy fig­ure: Kellyanne is loyal to Trump. Her hus­band, Ge­orge, is a Repub­li­can Nev­erTrumper. Clau­dia’s erst­while Twit­ter ac­count and ac­tive TikTok thus of­fer an in­side look into one of the most po­lit­i­cally rel­e­vant house­holds in the U.S. She’s also a child and pos­si­bly an un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor. Nei­ther she nor the press is to blame for the fact that the White House has been an un­trust­wor­thy and re­luc­tant source of in­for­ma­tion about the pres­i­dent’s health. In the ab­sence of cred­i­ble lead­er­ship, we’re left to rely on any­one with insight. But there’s no way to ver­ify the claims she makes on TikTok. She’s said, for ex­am­ple, that Trump is do­ing much worse than he has ad­mit­ted in pub­lic. This is plau­si­ble, but un­less the pres­i­dent’s health dra­mat­i­cally wors­ens, we might never know if she’s telling the truth.

For ev­ery­one else, the mat­ter of Clau­dia seems a lit­tle less fraught. In time, she might have be­come a celebrity any­way; her parent­age tipped her to­ward fame even be­fore she’d ac­cu­mu­lated more than a mil­lion fol­low­ers on TikTok. But once again, she’s a child, and one who’s post­ing from in­side a tense and di­vided house­hold. And there isn’t al­ways much em­pa­thy ap­par­ent in the way the Twit­ter-ad­dled re­spond to her sto­ries. Nearly ev­ery­thing she posts gen­er­ates a head­line now—the New York Post has a run­ning se­ries ded­i­cated to her ide­o­log­i­cal war on her par­ents. On Twit­ter, well-mean­ing peo­ple praise her for her brav­ery and re­peat slo­gans about the power of teen girls.

Teen girls are fine. I used to be one, in the an­te­dilu­vian times be­fore TikTok, and ac­com­plished noth­ing of note. But the lib­eral ten­dency to slot this par­tic­u­lar teen girl into the role of hero does no one any fa­vors. This is the “one cool trick” ap­proach to Trump, which hopes that one per­son or ges­ture can bring down the de­baser-in-chief. Its hall­mark is des­per­a­tion and a ten­dency to­ward empty ges­tures. (Re­mem­ber the safety pins? The Drumpf hats? All that RBG ap­parel?) But a sav­ior isn’t com­ing. It wasn’t Comey or Mueller; it won’t be Clau­dia Con­way, even if she did drive her mother out of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. It won’t even be Joe Bi­den. The times re­quire a real po­lit­i­cal move­ment, prefer­ably the kind that isn’t so eas­ily com­mod­i­fied.

As for Clau­dia, the real vil­lains are her par­ents—yes, both of them. Ge­orge is a rare species, a Repub­li­can with the com­mon sense to ab­hor Don­ald Trump. But that’s a low bar to clear, and the celebrity he rev­els in has helped push his daugh­ter into the spot­light. It’s not hard to un­der­stand why a teenage girl who dis­agrees with her fa­mous par­ents might feel ob­li­gated to dis­tance her­self as pub­licly as pos­si­ble. Jour­nal­ists will still have to ap­proach her with care, eval­u­at­ing her claims as she makes them. Ev­ery­one else should back off and grow up. This still isn’t Harry Pot­ter. Our sal­va­tion does not rest on a plucky YA hero­ine. That’s your job, and it’s go­ing to take years.

Con­way used her TikTok to “clar­ify” her ear­lier post that be­came break­ing news that her mom had covid.

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