Saturday 24 August 2019

Catherine O'Mahony: 'Silence is golden but G20 summit shows that Trump's Ivanka is not for sidelining'

Oblivious: Not everyone was impressed with Ivanka Trump’s unbridled chutzpah at the G20 summit in the presence of world leaders. Photo: Reuters
Oblivious: Not everyone was impressed with Ivanka Trump’s unbridled chutzpah at the G20 summit in the presence of world leaders. Photo: Reuters
Catherine O'Mahony

Catherine O'Mahony

In a week where it's been headline news that extremely highly qualified women have been picked for two top EU jobs, what in the world should we make of Ivanka Trump?

A woman whose own father calmly sat back and said nothing while shock jockey Howard Stern called her a "piece of ass" on his radio show in 2004, Donald Trump's apparently favourite daughter is truly miraculously unburdened by self-doubt.

The Oblivious One reminded us again of her unbridled chutzpah as she piped up on the fringes of this week's G20 summit meeting with her own point of view, despite being surrounded by some of the most intimidatingly well-briefed people on the planet - namely French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, International Monetary Fund director (and now also the European Central Bank presidential nominee) Christine Lagarde and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

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The resulting dispiriting little exchange, with which Lagarde was visibly deeply unimpressed, was later circulated by the French delegation online [The French later said they had not anticipated the reaction and would not take responsibility]. It all triggered global hilarity, at least among the Twitterati, for the latest epic show of hubris by Donald Trump and his clan.

A tiny part of me feels a twinge of sympathy for Ivanka. It must be very hard to hold your own with world leaders when your main business - until 2016 - has been selling shoes. It must also be confusing to find yourself sidelined in a discussion with world leaders when you are, if reports are correct, box fresh from taking part in high-level nuclear negotiations with North Korea at the Korean Demilitarised Zone. Could you possibly be forgiven for expecting your voice to be heard?

It's also the case that panic does weird things to a person's capacity to make sense. If I were surrounded by Macron, Trudeau, Lagarde and May, I might very possibly have started burbling on about 'Love Island', or the cat. And more seriously, there's a mean streak of snobbery behind some of the commentary about Ivanka's intervention in this difficult chat, an unseemly delight in watching a young(ish) woman with notions being shown who's boss by her snooty elders and betters.

But I am grasping at straws for fairness here. In a world in which it's still noteworthy for a woman to be named for any kind of senior role in government (Lagarde and the possible future European commission president Ursula von der Leyen were a case in point this week), it is simply baffling to observe that Ivanka does not seem to have noticed the incongruity of her own elevation to high office - by dint of birthright.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who also this week reported on the appalling conditions that persist for women detained in a migrant camp on the Texan border (another issue that Ivanka doesn't seem too troubled by), issued a caustic tweet on the matter:

"It may be shocking to some, but being someone's daughter actually isn't a career qualification," she remarked.

"It hurts our diplomatic standing when the president phones it in and the world moves on… The US needs our president working the G20. Bringing a qualified diplomat couldn't hurt either."

Is Ivanka a quasi-diplomat these days? Her official title is "adviser to the US president", focusing on the "education and economic empowerment of women and their families". She apparently presides over a multi-million dollar US government fund to promote workplace access for women in the developing world.

On a superficial level, this is the kind of role women would probably want other women to have in government. The trouble with Ivanka, of course, is that she has done nothing to merit it. Now she has, to be fair, written two books of advice aimed at the modern woman. 'The Trump Card', her first publication when she was 28, is a business book that is, the blurb says, "based upon what Ivanka Trump has learned from her father and from her own experiences".

Her key ingredients for success? "Inspiration. Success. Confidence. Passion."

"We've all been dealt a winning hand and it is up to each of us to play it right and smart."

Fair enough. The book ranks as a bestseller so there are clearly readers out there who do not require originality in their self-help manuals. Still, critics were unconvinced, with many pointing out that Ivanka's own winning hand was rather more generous than, well, everyone.

Undeterred, Ivanka followed it up with a second tome in 2017 called 'Women Who Work'. Again, it is fair to say reviews were mixed. The 'New Yorker' acidly declared 'Women Who Work' to be "a painfully oblivious book for basically no one", noting that it was curiously devoid of any awareness of gender, and that Ivanka waited until the second last page to mention the need for paid leave and affordable childcare.

The book's core messages are rather reminiscent of the sort of thing you find on Pinterest: "All women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives" is one remark (is architecting a verb?) and also: "Honour yourself by exploring the kind of life you deserve."

You can see how Ivanka must have struggled at the G20.

It is fine that a daughter of Trump would not know about the real reasons why women are struggling to achieve economic equality. But when that daughter is a key adviser to the US presidency, or is chewing the fat with Christine Lagarde, who holds the world's economy in her hands and may soon set European interest rates?

A quick look on Pinterest, it turns out, yields sage words of advice on this matter: "Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all."

Irish Independent

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