Also prompting concerns about nepotism is Ivanka Trump, Jared’s wife and the president’s eldest daughter. On top of the fact that Ivanka, like her husband, received the role of presidential adviser despite having no government experience, her business holdings have also become increasingly controversial in recent weeks. In April, news that the first daughter applied for and received several trademarks in China drew comparisons to her father doing the same in February. Then, The Washington Post reported on dozens of violations of international labor laws at Chinese factories working on products for Ivanka’s brand. Both cases prompted speculation that the Chinese government may be attempting to curry favor with the president’s daughter, the former through undue rewards and the latter through lax enforcement that enables the factory to operate despite substandard working conditions.
The recent release of Ivanka’s memoir, Women Who Work, has generated its own ethics missteps. Less than two weeks after the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs deleted an article that appeared to be advertising Mar-a-Lago, the president’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida, the government-funded news outlet Voice of America republished a piece from the Associated Press touting Ivanka’s new book. In a similar incident, another branch of the State Department, the Office of Global Women’s Issues, retweeted, then deleted, one of Ivanka’s posts about her book. All of these contribute to the perception that the Trumps are treating the presidency as a for-profit enterprise, driving up the value of their brand on the product-placement opportunities the White House provides.
Arguably, Ivanka shouldn’t even have been promoting her book in the first place. A federal ethics law states that “An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, [or] for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.” The Trump administration appears to have violated that law twice, once when Kellyanne Conway provided what she herself dubbed “a free commercial” for Ivanka Trump’s brand on national television and once when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plugged The LEGO Batman Movie, which he executive-produced, in an interview. Under previous administrations, which were significantly more circumspect about such rules, it’s likely that Ivanka or another employee in her position would have been more press-shy; for instance, Michael Punke, an Obama-era trade official, wouldn’t publicly mention his book The Revenant (or the Oscar-winning film into which it was adapted) lest he appear to be using his position for personal gain.
Indeed, it’s difficult to separate the appeal of Ivanka’s book from the cachet of her political position. Her rise to the role of adviser to the president ties in nicely with the memoir, which purports to document the values that women must pursue to achieve success (even if it conveniently elides the importance of inherited wealth and power in her own narrative). Just as her father’s presidency makes Mar-a-Lago notable enough to merit an article on a State Department website, Ivanka’s role in the White House renders her book much more culturally relevant. Even Ivanka’s decision to cancel her book tour in a purported effort to comply with ethics rules received significant attention, which may not replicate the impact of a book tour itself but at least helped keep the book in national headlines.