First Daughters in the Age of Social Media

By Erin Cabrey

Ivanka Trump is poised to be an influential but heavily scrutinized first daughter. (Flickr)

As protesters flocked to airports across the country to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order, known by most as the “Muslim ban,” Ivanka Trump took to Instagram. Her post was a captionless snap of herself in a floor length gown standing next to her tuxedo-clad husband, Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner. The post, dubbed tone-deaf by many, immediately received intense backlash. Several critics compared the first daughter to Marie Antoinette, the monarch whose supposed infamous utterance “Let them eat cake” demonstrated a severe disregard for her peasants. Others tagged Ivanka Trump’s twitter accounts in tweets regarding their personal struggles with the Muslim ban.

Following the incident, Harper’s Bazaar reported the eldest daughter of the President and her husband were celebrating Shabbat and thus were without their phones between sundown on Friday, very soon after the President signed the executive order, and sundown Saturday. Though Kushner is President Trump’s senior adviser, sources told Harper’s Bazaar that the couple was unaware of the situation at the time of Ivanka’s Instagram post and Ivanka “felt terrible” over the misunderstanding. She has yet to release a public statement and the post remains on her Instagram account.

It has been many years since the United States has seen an adult first daughter on Inauguration Day. The last eight years have, rightly so, seen little talk of the personal or political affairs of the first daughters. Sasha and Malia Obama were seven and ten, respectively, when their father took office. Chelsea Clinton, whose parents diligently dissuaded media coverage of their daughter, was only 12 when she moved into the White House. The Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, though legal adults, were just 19 when George W. Bush was inaugurated.

This does not mean, however, that the previously mentioned women spent their time as first daughters unscathed by media scrutiny. An adolescent Chelsea Clinton faced brutal jokes about her appearance, especially one notable jab by Mike Myers on Saturday Night Live, something that was likely fresh in her mind when recently defending 10-year-old Barron Trump after an SNL writer mocked him on Twitter. The entire country knew when in 2001 Jenna and Barbara Bush, then 19, were charged with underage alcohol offenses after being caught drinking beer in Texas. Most recently, Sasha and Malia Obama faced scrutiny over outfits they wore to the 2014 Turkey Pardoning, and Malia came under fire just last August after she was spotted smoking what was believed to be marijuana at Lollapalooza.

These former first daughters have very much grown into their own, using the experience accumulated from eight years in the White House well into their adult lives. Chelsea Clinton has been a special correspondent for NBC and is now Vice-Chair of the Clinton Foundation. She has recently taken to Twitter to condemn Kellyanne Conway’s false claims of a “Bowling Green Massacre.” Jenna Bush works for NBC News and The Today Show and spoke out against the Muslim ban by citing a post-9/11 unifying speech made by her father, former President George W. Bush. Barbara Bush is president and co-founder of the nonprofit Global Health Corps and promoted the legalization of same-sex marriage in a 2011 video for the Human Rights Campaign. Malia Obama spent the summer of 2016 interning at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain, and attended a protest against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines last month.

Last week, Ivanka Trump hosted a dinner party to discuss women in the workforce, one of her first strides to influence her father’s policy. The dinner party’s attendees included CEOs from JP Morgan and Johnson & Johnson, along with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and Ernst & Young CEO Mark Weinberger, the two men The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump appointed to advise him on the topic of women in the workforce. Ivanka came under fire again after this event, with detractors noting the initiative appeared to be largely excluding women from a dialogue hinging on their inclusion. Others have also criticized Ivanka’s refusal to take a public stance on abortion, an important women’s rights issue currently being threatened.

As America begins to adjust to a first daughter poised to take on initiatives from the get-go, Ivanka must also, strictly from media precedent, expect heavy scrutiny for any and all missteps. Rumored to be assuming responsibilities of First Lady while Melania Trump remains in New York, Ivanka has quickly forayed into influencing policy, something which will further solidify her place under the spotlight for at least the next four years.
Though few first children have seen such controversial, highly-protested presidencies, it is undeniable that this experience offers boundless opportunities for social and political action of which most of Ivanka’s predecessors have taken advantage. Time will only tell if and how she will make use of this influential and privileged position. As a first daughter active on several social media platforms, however, Ivanka can expect that the world will be watching.


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