Ivanka Trump: The Heiress No One Wanted

Americans fail to buy “Trump” as the name of luxury and success

In 2003, “The Simple Life” premiered on Fox Television and for the next 3 years or so, the world belonged to Paris Hilton. She was everywhere, and raking in cash to boot. The bulk of her appeal was the wealth that helped buy her celebrity, but Paris saw that “being famous for being famous” presented a big opportunity. Using a combination of scandal, glamour, and a knack for knowing what people want, she amassed a net worth of over $300 million, and built to an empire that includes hit TV shows, best-selling books, and popular perfumes.

Kim Kardashian rode Hilton’s coattails to work her way into the public’s consciousness, then turned her own brand of inherited money and sex appeal into a celebrity empire. Since 2007, she’s done everything a young heiress can possibly do: star in a reality show, pose for Playboy, start a perfume line. Her book “Selfish” sold 32,000 copies which was impressive given that it contained nothing but selfies of her face.

To prove that you can do it on talent alone, consider this: Julia Louis Dreyfus is the granddaughter of shipping magnate Pierre-Louis Dreyfus, and their family’s net worth is estimated to be in the billions. She was born with immense wealth and raised with the privilege it brings — though most of us didn’t even know that until after we’d already grown to love her as a brilliant comedic actress. Today, with 11 Emmys, she continues to work and delight critics and audiences.

Ivanka Trump co-hosted the Miss Teen USA Awards in 1997 at age 15 and appears on camera with the charisma of a kid reading their school’s morning announcements. After each of her short segments, she lowers the microphone a few inches from her face, gulps a smile to the camera, and throws a painful, seductive look at co-host J. Eddy Peck. For the duration of the pageant, her father, the future President, sits tuxedo-clad in the front row, sporting what I would describe as a proud grimace.

Miss Teen USA Awards, 1997

I don’t know exactly what the pageant’s producers (or the owner, her father) thought of her performance, but I do know she didn’t return in 1998. That year, Ali Landry and Julie Moran began a modest, three year dynasty of providing color commentary for the semi-prestigious event.

In 1997 she also appeared on the cover of Seventeen as part of a story on celebrity moms and daughters. I can imagine the exasperated pitching of her father’s publicist, begging the editor at Seventeen for an “Ivanka” cover story about rising stars or hot young models . They settled instead on a topic that confirmed what both parties already knew: Ivanka was really only interesting as the daughter of someone who was sort of famous.

She founded her fashion line in 2014 and it ran in Macy’s long enough to be successful, I suppose, though I really have no idea what that means in retail. I’ve never complimented a woman on her outfit and had her say, “thanks, it’s an Ivanka,” but maybe that’s happened to you. I would speculate that like Regis Philbin Ties or singer Marc Anthony’s line at Kohls, Ivanka’s line targeted people who shopped look first, cheap second, and her name third (if at all).

To top it all off, her 2017 book, Women Who Work sold just 31,900 copies (less than Kim K’s book full of selfies), despite having the brand of the Presidency behind it. I think the issue is that we just don’t think of Ivanka as a woman who works. Consumers can get behind Gwyneth Paltrow (another beloved heiress) as an expert in everything from healthy eating to colon care, but we can’t bring ourselves to accept that a woman who has essentially only worked for her erratic billionaire father could possibly have relatable advice on career advancement.

Today, when I see the President haul Ivanka out on stage for this or that, I can’t help but think of Charles Foster Kane, clapping wildly in the balcony of a silent theatre. He wants so badly for us to love her because he wants so badly for us to love him. His pursuit of validation through his daughter has repeatedly exposed the poor girl to his bumbling cast of ethically challenged business partners, who for whatever reason remain convinced that we’re convinced the name “Trump” is the name of luxury and success.

Charles Foster Kane

Which brings us to the real problem with Ivanka Trump. She’s failed at everything she’s tried because she’s the victim of what is either a lie or a delusion that’s been advanced by her father since her birth: that their family name is worth a damn to the American middle class.

Unfortunately, the same lie is being fed to others around the world as we speak. In the last few months, a developer in Indonesia announced a massive new project branded with the Trump name. I expect it will go down like this: those developers will sell their shoddy Trump condos to other investors, who have also taken the bait on the lie. And when the units ultimately fail to attract real, residential buyers at a profit to the speculators, the truth about public opinion will emerge: as Luxury brands go, the Trump name is the Mercedes of clown cars.

I think Bill Penzey of Penzey’s spices was correct when he wrote on Facebook that Donald Trump has no constituency. There seem to be some people who like the idea of him, for sure. A successful metropolitan millionaire with a model wife and beautiful daughter? Why, he’s everything Gotham City could ask for. And there are plenty of people who agree with his views on race and immigration passionately enough to defend him from any reasonable character criticism.

As for him specifically, there’s no real love. There’s no void being filled by the man or his family. We don’t connect with any of them, and when they lob us a softball to work their way into our hearts — we collectively pass. There’s no “swing and a miss.” We just don’t swing.

From Paris Hilton to Kim Kardashian, to Prince Harry and Freddie Prinze Jr, Americans love heirs and heiresses. Through them, we live out our most basic American fantasy: to not have to wake up at the crack of dawn to every day to unburden ourselves from the weight of compounding interest. Americans may disagree on how the game is rigged and who is rigging it, but in general, we mostly agree that it is. Inheriting a few million bucks is the perfect way to sit back and enjoy it as a spectator.

Perhaps our obsession with young and rich is a naturally occurring psychological ailment of a cripplingly unequal society. Just as likely, it’s juvenile escapism. One hundred and fifty-some years after Joseph Brackett wrote “Simple gifts,” we celebrate money and luxury more than anyone from that time could have imagined. We gasp for it. But as we’ve seen and time and time again with one failed Ivanka Trump offering or another; we just don’t seem to want it from a Trump.