Ivanka Trump is surprised to discover the world is cruel. During an interview this weekend she said she’d encountered an unexpected “level of viciousness” since moving to Washington, D.C. Ivanka has lived too long in a cozy cocoon of wealth and power and privilege. Now she is emerging, not as a butterfly but as a common moth. She’s drawn to the light of fame and adulation, but she cannot take the heat of actual scrutiny and disapproval. It’s odd. She ought to be comfortable with viciousness. She grew up with a father who built his reputation saying vicious things. Does she think “grab them by the pussy” warmed anyone’s heart? When her father called women “nasty” and “bimbo” and “ugly,” was that not vicious?
It does not say much for Ivanka that she cannot register viciousness unless it is directed toward her, but she is not a woman who seems prone to self-reflection. Ivanka styles herself as a relentlessly optimistic, hardworking, successful career woman and supermom. She’s been peddling this myth for years and we’ve let her get away with it. Until recently it hardly seemed worth disputing, but now is the time to call her out on the lie that is her image. Ivanka is not successful because of hard work or superior intelligence or natural talent. Ivanka is successful because, like her father, she was born wealthy. Would she have been just as successful if she’d been born to working class parents? Or to a struggling middle class single mom? Maybe. We’ll never know. She’ll never know.
Most of us learn early that life is unfair and that some people are mean. The meanest people are often the ones with the most power. One summer just after high school I worked a temp job at a law firm. One day one of the lawyers commented on my skirt. I made the mistake of assuming she was giving me a compliment. “My mother made it,” I said. “From a t-shirt!” The woman laughed and not in a nice way. “I wouldn’t brag about that,” she told me. I turned purple and continued on my current errand, which was to pick up exhibits from a local copy shop for an upcoming trial. The exhibits were poster-sized photos of a naked woman’s badly beaten body. The copy shop didn’t have a bag large enough to cover the images, so I carried them in full display through downtown Jackson, Mississippi, past the prostitutes and drug dealers who shouted out a friendly “hey, baby” whenever I walked by. They thought I had style. They understood that the injustices I suffered didn’t stem from my clothing.
Ivanka needs to understand that the injustices she perceives come from a deeper place as well, a place where most of us have already been dragged through the gutter a few times. Mean people are everywhere and you have to get used to them. If Ivanka had been flung into the spotlight against her will, I’d feel sorry for her. Being rich and powerful doesn’t mean you can’t have hurt feelings, but she chose a public life and now she is in a position to do real damage. We can’t afford to let her believe her own lies. She needs to understand that for most people the world is not an endless buffet of statement jewelry and champagne popsicles and designer dresses. Viciousness is a fact of life and it comes more often from above than from below. Ivanka has lived her life above the rest of us, but now she has landed in the real world. Let’s hope she works past her surprise at the viciousness of this world and finds her way to empathy.