Politics & Policy

Political Clans Choose Public Life

Don Jr. and Vanessa in 2016 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

Announcing that she has filed for divorce from her husband, Donald Trump Jr., Vanessa Trump wrote: “We ask for your privacy at this time.” That isn’t quite what she meant — apparently, nobody in the Trump family ever will speak English as fluently as Melania — but the sentiment was predictable enough. Every divorce is a tragedy, and to act that tragedy out in public (news of the disunion first broke in the New York Post, of course) is going to be unpleasant for the Trumps.

That being said: You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

Vanessa Trump is hardly the worst offender on this front. The worst offender is Ivanka, who works in the White House and who represents the United States around the world in a pseudo-diplomatic capacity (as at the recent Winter Olympics) but retreats into infantile daddy–daughter talk when pressed about the president’s history — the president’s history — of sexual shenanigans and misconduct, which, if we take the president at his own word, rises at least to sexual battery.

Asked about that by NBC News a few months back, Ivanka whined: “I think it’s a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter, if she believes the accusers of her father, when he’s affirmatively stated that there’s no truth to it. I don’t think that’s a question you would ask many other daughters.” She’s right about one thing: NBC News would not ask that question of many other daughters. You know what those daughters have in common? Their fathers are not the president of the United States of America. It matters what manner of man the president is, what his character is, and how he comports himself.

If the members of the extended Trump family do not like being in the spotlight, then they should think very carefully about — radical idea — staying out of the spotlight. Ivanka could, if she so chose, while away her days as a moneyed Manhattan socialite, leasing her name to manufacturers of tacky handbags and doing…whatever it is that people like her do all day. She could take on whatever inoffensive milk-and-cookies philanthropy seems best to her and mind her own business. If she did so, she could plausibly brush off uncomfortable questions about Daddy. But she works in the White House. She chooses to work in the White House, for whatever inexplicable reason. Getting into politics and then complaining about uncomfortable questions from the press is like becoming a boxer and complaining that people are trying to punch you in the face all day. It’s the job.

If the members of the extended Trump family do not like being in the spotlight, then they should think very carefully about — radical idea — staying out of the spotlight.

Vanessa Trump hasn’t been as public a figure as Ivanka has, but she hasn’t exactly been keeping herself in splendid isolation, either. And, of course, neither has her husband, who chases publicity the way his dad chases married women. Air Force One has its own peculiar form of airfare, and the cost of a seat is your privacy. Nobody said any of these cretins and sycophants had to co-star on this half-a**ed version of The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.

The Democratic version of Ivanka Trump — Chelsea Clinton — has the same problem. She insists that tough questions for her former friend Ivanka are “fair game,” but complains that in this moment of heightened awareness of sexual misconduct by powerful men — and her father has credibly been accused of rape — her own clan’s ugly history on the subject is a private, family matter.

“It’s none of your business,” Chelsea Clinton said when asked about her father’s history. “That is something that is personal to my family. I’m sure there are things that are personal to your family that you don’t think are anyone else’s business either.” Indeed, there are. Nobody in my family was president of the United States of America. (Well, William McKinley, but that was a long, long time ago.) And nobody in my family was a major-party presidential candidate in the last election, either.

Like Ivanka, Chelsea has made millions of dollars renting her famous surname, as she did during her ridiculous make-believe journalism career. She is an executive of the Clinton Foundation, which has been the recipient of generous donations from, among others, Harvey Weinstein. The head of the Clinton Foundation is an intern-diddling politician who very well may be guilty of much worse, and who was obliged to forfeit his law license for lying about his adventures. Her mother helped to harass and ruin the women who accused her father of sexual misconduct. All of this was done in the pursuit of political power. That isn’t something that is personal to one’s family. That’s politics.

Like Ivanka, Chelsea is rich as Croesus. She has no need of working to earn a living. But she does have a deep and obvious need for celebrity, for adoration and adulation in the press and in what today passes for high society.

If any of the Trumps or Clintons — or Bushes, or Kennedys, or Cuomos — wants a private life, private life is waiting. All any of them has to do is to step off of the stage. Some of us might even thank them for doing so, and admire the act a little bit.

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