Ivanka Trump is the poised, polished face of a chaotic White House, a bright young mother who many suspect is a voice of reason and moderation among the Steve Bannon acolytes in the West Wing, whispering socially liberal values in her daddy’s ear. As many reviewers have noted this week, her new book, Women Who Work, confirms that image: Interspersed among the inspirational quotes, anecdotes from her own career and business advice you’ve heard before are calls for better parental leave and child-care policies, putting Ivanka Trump solidly to the left of her father and the Republican Party.
But Women Who Work is not Trump’s only book, nor is it the most revealing of her politics and her worldview. That designation falls to her previous book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. If Women Who Work is the polished, media-ready Ivanka, then The Trump Card is the rougher, realer deal—the Ivanka id. And while Trump herself comes across as much more honest in The Trump Card—which she wrote just five years out of college, four of which she had spent at her father’s company—it also makes clear that she is indeed her father’s daughter: She’s not above self-aggrandizement, self-dealing, or a stunningly Ayn Randian sense of entitlement and greed.
Everyone, of course, matures and evolves, and who Ivanka is today is no doubt genuinely different from who she was at 27, when she wrote The Trump Card in 2009. That she’s more thoughtful, generous and careful about her public image is all to her credit. And yet the fundamental values Trump extols and says she was raised with in The Trump Card should make us pause before taking Women Who Work, newly atop the New York Times best-seller list, at face value. The Trumps, after all, are famous for branding themselves, packaging and repackaging their image and their values for financial gain. Ivanka’s poised presence in the White House might just make her father behave better. Or maybe she has simply mastered the Trumpian art of branding—just what the chaotic Trump administration needs now.
Reading The Trump Card suggests the latter. While Ivanka takes a humble, conciliatory tone toward her affluent upbringing in Women Who Work—mentioning the many legs-up she’s gotten, but also emphasizing her own hard work—she is much less circumspect in The Trump Card. For instance, there are a half-dozen revealing anecdotes in that book that she and her team wisely left out of the newer one: the time the precocious Trump siblings started a lemonade stand and coerced their domestic help to empty their pockets and buy beverages; the time her neighbor, Michael Jackson, came to her ballet recital and the other girls wanted to wear white gloves in homage, but the grownups (and Ivanka) disagreed and “for a short-lived moment I wished like hell that I had been born into some other set of circumstances”; how she used to go to the kids’ game room in the Trump casino in Atlantic City to play with the claw machine and, when she inevitably failed to grab a toy, “a security guard would wander over, unlock the glass case, and hand me the stuffed animal of my choice.”
Indeed, the Ivanka in The Trump Card seems not in the least humbled by her upbringing, but instead is defensive about it. The first line of the book reads, “In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” That’s in a chapter titled “Get Over It”—the “it” is the idea that Trump’s wealth and privilege bought her any real advantage. After comparing her position to runners staggered for a race—she’s the one on the outside track who looks like she’s ahead, but it’s a “perceived lead” and “in truth, the only advantage is psychological”—she spends much of the book gushing about how amazing her family is. “Gosh, I sound like my father, don’t I?” she writes. “But that’s what you get from this particular Daddy’s girl.”
The reframing of Ivanka as an ambitious everywoman in Women Who Work is remarkably thorough. The book starts on a vulnerable note, with the story of a 28-year-old Trump trekking through Patagonia, taking in the “crystal blue water” and “snow-covered peaks,” feeling “calm and grateful that bright, frosty morning, a contrast to the uneasiness I felt in New York.” It’s an anecdote about Trump’s fear about leaving her first job after college, at the real estate company Forest City Ratner, to join the family business at the Trump Organization—she had always intended to go work for the Trump Organization, but was this what she wanted to be doing now? Would she thrive there? Worry not, because two pages later it works out: “As much as I wrestled then with the decision to join my family at The Trump Organization, it turns out that that soul-searching journey led me right where I belonged.”
In The Trump Card, though, it’s clear this was Ivanka’s plan all along. She considers working for her father immediately out of school, but one of her professors convinces her to interview at Forest City Ratner. When she’s hired, Ivanka understands that Bruce Ratner’s team “would be renting me instead of hiring me,” since she was headed to work for her father eventually. It’s unclear how following this carefully planned path just a year later leads to an existential crisis meriting some “me time” in Patagonia; perhaps Ivanka was scrounging for something resembling a problem in her personal history and repackaged it to make herself a more relatable narrator.
It’s notable that Ivanka’s Forest City Ratner position gets more detailed treatment in The Trump Card than in Women Who Work. She got the job after going on her first and only job interview, but this does not stop her from offering ample advice about job interviews later in The Trump Card, including advising readers to cover up their cleavage, have a résumé in hand and avoid offending the interviewer with strong smells—cut down the perfume, she writes, but don’t come in smelling like kabobs or other New York City street food either. Her advice in Women Who Work is vaguer—there are no directives about what to wear or how to smell—and focused instead on fairly obvious guidance about team building (hire people who are self-starters; hire people who are strong where you’re weak, etc.).
Since The Trump Card was published, Ivanka’s relationship with other women has either done a 180, or she’s realized feminism is newly profitable. In the White House, she has championed herself as a champion of women, and sure enough, Women Who Work is full of “you go girl!” aphorisms, from her claim that she has “made it my life’s work to inspire and empower women in every aspect of their lives” to her closing line, offering Ivanka Feminism to all women, because “whether you’re working in the home or out of it, we’re all women who work.”
If empowering women is her life’s work, it’s odd that it didn’t really factor into her first book at all, where the only empowered women are Trump herself and her mother, Ivana. Her friends and classmates serve as examples of spoiled rich kids, handy foils to Ivanka, whose parents guided her away from such excesses by at one point making her fly coach—“at the time,” she writes, apparently now enlightened, “I thought this was the most spectacularly unfair development in the history of transatlantic travel”—and instilling in her the knowledge that the jets, villas and yachts she was accustomed to weren’t actually hers, but theirs. When Trump starts modeling (because “I’d developed a taste for fashion and style—and, above all, for making money”) she comes across “the meanest, cattiest, bitchiest girls on the planet” who were “entitled, unsupervised, undereducated, pampered teenagers.” When she’s on “The Apprentice,” she gains a following of people who “appeared to like that I was cut a little differently than other successful young women of my generation, that I seemed more focused on building a career and making my family proud than on partying and hamming it up in front of the camera.”
It’s this personal grit and focus, Trump writes, that not only sets her apart from her peers, but explains her personal success. Yet even in detailing all the ways she has, on her own, earned and achieved, she inevitably comes back to relying on some unearned advantage—and these advantages are such a consistent backdrop to her life that she doesn’t really see them. When she was modeling, the other young women would “cash [their] checks and go crazy.” Not Ivanka: “Whatever I made, I sent right over to Ace Greenberg at Bear Stearns, who handled a lot of our family accounts. I sat down with Ace, the former CEO of Bear Stearns and then chairman, and we talked about a conservative portfolio of investments.” Who knows, maybe the other models would have invested, too, if they had Ace’s phone number and a Bear Stearns family account.
Such casual displays of stratospheric economic and social privilege appear far less often in Women Who Work. Ivanka may obliquely make reference to her expansive country home, but it’s in the context of talking about getting dirty in the garden with her kids. Ace Greenberg doesn’t get name-dropped (neither does Kanye West, whose friendship she also goes out of her way to highlight in The Trump Card). Instead, the people she writes about are largely female titans of business and industry, framed as inspirational women, not family friends currying favors.
One thing Ivanka has thought about, and chose to set aside in Women Who Work, is sexual harassment. That is, of course, one of the more toxic and pressing issues women face in the workplace, and Ivanka herself has experienced it—and given it a pass. In The Trump Card, she writes about starting her new job at Forest City Ratner and feeling anxious about “the perils of the young blonde, walking in a construction site to the cacophonous catcalls of the big, hairy behemoths on the crew.” She realizes later that she “made a conscious effort early on in my career to play down the fact that I was an attractive young woman. I don’t mean to blow smoke my own way here, but I had been a reasonably successful fashion model.” She was OK, though, because she “developed enough confidence to deflect the whistles with relative ease.” Sexual harassment “is never acceptable,” she writes, but “at the same time, we must recognize that our coworkers come in all shapes, stripes, and sizes. What might be offensive to one person might appear harmless to another. Learn to figure out when a hoot or a holler is indeed a form of harassment and when it’s merely a good-natured tease that you can give back in kind.”
This comes a few chapters after she quotes former Fox chairman Roger Ailes—who of course recently left his company after multiple sexual harassment allegations and was defended by President Trump—on the value of being positive.
By the time Women Who Work came out, Ivanka had been swept up in her father’s own gender-related scandals: He was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, and a slew of women going back decades accused him of that. And there’s his long record of sexist statements about women, including journalists and other presidential candidates during the campaign. Amid all this, Ivanka defended him as a promoter of women. Now, she seeks to avoid the issue, ignoring sexual harassment altogether in Women Who Work, despite the fact that harassment at work stymies the career prospects of many “women who work.” This is, to put it mildly, an inconvenient topic for the Trump White House, whose interests appear to outweigh the interests of working women in Ivanka’s book.
On some issues, Ivanka seems genuinely to have evolved—perhaps the outcome of getting married and having three children. In The Trump Card, she extols the power of face time in an anecdote about one of her role models, Rupert Murdoch: After buying the Wall Street Journal, he began stopping by the office on Sundays, and suddenly employees who were used to having their weekends off were spending their free time at work. “Like Rupert, I try to stop by my office every Sunday when I’m in town,” she writes. A few sentences later, she writes that while she doesn’t require anyone else to do the same, “you’d be surprised at how quickly your employees will fall in line behind you when you set this kind of example.” And if someone was in the office before she was there or stayed later at night, she would make a note to reward him (yes, him) professionally: “If he struggles in other areas, you can be sure I’ll take his extra effort into account when I evaluate his performance.” As Trump writes, “there’s no reason you can’t get to work earlier than they do every morning and leave later every evening. There’s no reason you can’t be behind your desk on Sundays while they’re watching college football or drinking mimosas with their friends.”
In Women Who Work, Ivanka tells women the opposite: that they should ask for flextime if they want it, and not to take a pay cut for it, either. And she paints a portrait of a very different Ivanka, one who leaves early on Fridays to observe the Jewish Sabbath and who tells her co-workers when she’s heading out to get her daughter from school so that others feel entitled to do the same. “If a leader sends the message that flexibility is tolerated or even embraced, she”—yes, she!—“creates an honest, supportive work environment in which other people feel it’s acceptable to acknowledge their lives outside of the office,” Trump writes. That Ivanka’s business advice has changed along with her life path isn’t surprising, and it’s laudable that she would offer her employees more flexibility. What is notable, though, is that Women Who Work doesn’t say much about what women should do if they have a boss like the old Ivanka—someone who rewards face time and penalizes employees who have lives outside the office.
Where The Trump Card really stands apart from Women Who Work is in its unabashed Trump-ness. Perhaps Ivanka (or a ghostwriter) played that angle up in The Trump Card and the real Ivanka is the exceedingly pleasant, humble and non-judgmental figure cut in Women Who Work. Or perhaps Ivanka (or a ghostwriter) massaged her image in Women Who Work into a gauzier, more glowing version of the actual woman. Either way, the Ivanka who guides us through The Trump Card is nepotistic, father-worshipping and judgmental, concerned first and foremost with her obligation “to preserve ad protect the family name and reputation.”
She hammers the idea that “there weren’t going to be any handouts in the Trump family,” and that her parents were raised that way too, often with an odd view of what it means to “earn” something on your own merit. She writes that her mother, a champion skier “had access to better food, better clothing, and better housing than other Czech citizens, so even though she grew up in a Communist country, she did so with every material advantage available in that Spartan context—all of it earned.” Her father was driven to school in a Rolls-Royce but dropped off at the nearest subway station instead of the front entrance in an effort “to keep him focused and grounded.” When Ivanka starts her own jewelry line, she decides to name it—what else?—Ivanka Trump, “a name that already represented luxury, glamour, wealth, and aspiration,” she writes. “There was built-in name recognition so it’d be foolish to set my birthright aside in favor of something generic.”
Ivanka repeatedly sings the praises of the New York Observer, saying her father would send her clippings of real estate articles from the paper and recommending that readers of The Trump Card seek it out for “longer, more substantive articles on a variety of issues.” She doesn’t mention that the Observer was at the time owned by Jared Kushner, the man she married the same month as The Trump Card’s publication. She champions this kind of self-promotion in the book, telling the story of pitching herself and her jewelry company for an episode of “The Apprentice.” The show shot an episode at her boutique (“you can’t put a price on that kind of exposure”), talked about her jewelry line throughout and featured her pieces. “When you roll up your sleeves and set to work in a bunch of different areas, you can’t help but help yourself,” she writes, adding that she sometimes offers loyal Trump hotel guests credit toward an Ivanka Trump jewelry purchase, “as a way of saying thank you to our best customers and at the same time driving the right kind of traffic into the store.” She also takes business clients and contacts to her father’s golf courses. “Call it what you will,” she writes, “but I call it synergy.”
Others may call it nepotism or self-dealing. For Ivanka, it’s just part of being a Trump—working every angle and advantage. Now, in a culture of resurgent feminism, where Sheryl Sandberg made herself one of the most famous faces in Silicon Valley for writing a feminist-minded manifesto and women from Janet Yellen to Christine Lagarde to Angela Merkel are the faces of globalist economics, it’s easy to see why veering away from her Randian roots and jumping on the female-empowerment-at-work bandwagon is a good professional move for the Ivanka of Women Who Work.
The real Ivanka Trump may indeed care about female success; she may also just care about her own. What is clear is that she is skilled at brand-building, something she details in her new book, and right now, feminism is good for the Ivanka Trump brand. In The Trump Card, she writes about her brief but successful stint working in sales and marketing, noting her particular skill for getting people to buy what she’s selling: “If you’re a pretty girl with the ability to b.s., so much the better.”