Of course Ivanka Trump believes her father’s accusers.
She tried to claim in an interview with NBC’s Peter Alexander that she doesn’t: ”I believe my father, I know my father,” she said, “so I think I have that right as a daughter to believe my father.”
To buy Trump’s statements here, we’d have to suspend reality on a number of fronts. We’d have to believe she doesn’t see anything amiss, despite building her political identity on women’s equality at work. That she doesn’t get the zeitgeist around women’s workplace empowerment, despite building a self-branded fashion company with the very tagline “empowering and inspiring women.” That she didn’t believe anything she wrote in her own book on these issues.
We’d have to believe that Ivanka, a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, thinks at least 16 women — with no connection to one another — are liars, despite years of telling consistent stories about their experiences with Trump, despite, in some cases, there being witnesses to the behavior, and despite the hostility they’ve faced when coming forward.
It’s difficult to accept something terrible about your own father, whether or not he’s the president. But the evidence of a pattern of behavior by Trump is overwhelming. It’s too much to believe that Ivanka doesn’t believe any of it. The more likely scenario is that she doesn’t care enough to say or do anything about it.
Ivanka’s position isn’t unique; it’s an insidious problem lurking beneath the #MeToo movement. Women are boldly telling their stories online and in the press for the first time, forcing the public to recognize the extent of the problem and to believe women — two very real issues.
Then there’s the Ivanka problem, which extends well beyond Ivanka herself. Many women have come forward, people in power believe them, but nothing is done. Or, worse, women face retaliation. Women’s dignity, autonomy, and basic rights are placed behind other concerns, like financial incentives to keep the perpetrator in his job, or the tribalism of politics, or a desperate urge to keep power in their own hands.
Ivanka shows us it’s not enough just to believe victims. They’re owed so much more.
The most common strategies for dealing with sexual harassment only make sense if the decision-makers believe the victim’s story.
We’ve seen one particular phenomenon again and again in the past year: Someone’s alleged behavior is described as an “open secret.” In the case of Leon Wieseltier, a legendary editor at the New Republic, it was even more blatant. As Michelle Cottle put it in the Atlantic: “It was simply out in the open.”
Sarah Wildman wrote for Vox that when she was a young staffer at the magazine, she complained about an incident where he kissed her and laughed as she ran away. “In disclosing this incident to my superiors, the outcome was, in many ways, far worse than the act itself. It’s not exactly that I was disbelieved; it’s that in the end, I was dismissed.”
There are the payouts. Companies don’t spend millions to make liars disappear. The Weinstein Company, Fox News, Vice, and many other companies paid off women to go away. Abusive men stayed where they were — or even got raises and promotions.
These decision-makers didn’t act out of the conviction that these accounts weren’t true. The decisions only make sense if they believed them to be true.
Tribalism, power, and money
Ivanka Trump has plenty of reason to participate in the pretend-not-to-know club.
She’s doing well off the Trump presidency, a strong motivator in keeping her father’s power intact. This is no different from other powerful figures who weigh the financial incentives between doing what’s right and keeping a man in place and then come out on the side of cash.
No one at the Weinstein Company has said they really should have moved faster on Harvey. Why should they? In his prime, he made huge hits, raked in cash, and won Academy Awards. At Fox News, Bill O’Reilly was their No. 1 star, driving the ratings that mean revenue.
Ivanka has her own financial incentives. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is traveling the world leveraging their access to the president to get rich(er). Last year, he was in China offering up visas. After the election, he trotted around looking for a sweetheart loan.
Ivanka is in on the same game. She used an interview to try to sell a line of her own jewelry. She published a book to coincide with her dad’s rise. She’s leaning into her political and professional brand to appeal to her core sales base. As she puts it on her company’s website, “At Ivanka Trump, we’re committed to helping women create the lives they want to lead.”
If Ivanka means that, she should start putting women’s lives first when they report credible stories. She needs to admit she believes women — and start to give a damn.
Rachel Wolfe contributed to this report.