What’s the difference?
During a weekend when president Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries sparked outcry on social media and protests at airports from coast to coast, Ivanka Trump took heat for documenting her own Washington, D.C., red carpet moment on social media.
Just after midnight Sunday, Trump posted a date night photo of herself on her Instagram and Twitter accounts, dressed in a glamorous silver metallic gown, with her husband Jared Kushner in a tuxedo by her side. The couple was standing in front of a mirrored wall, which showed Kushner’s hand resting on Trump’s posterior.
The posts immediately stirred debate on social media. Some said the post was insensitive to the humanitarian chaos in the U.S. with refugees being detained at several airports, and protesters clogging the terminals and streets, while others wondered why Ivanka couldn’t enjoy a glamorous night out like the very same Hollywood celebrities who were taking the president to task.
Indeed, not even 12 hours later, Hollywood took to the SAG Awards red carpet for its own preening fashion parade; Nicole Kidman even dressed like a parrot, for crying out loud, in an emerald green sequined Gucci gown with feathery shoulders.
So why was one tone-deaf and one business-as-usual?
Because Ivanka’s role on the geopolitical stage is unique. It’s unlike that of the children of previous sitting presidents while they were in office, including Sasha and Malia Obama, and it’s unlike that of a Hollywood celebrity.
Ivanka, at age 35, is a key player in her father’s image strategy and was a vocal supporter throughout the campaign at rallies and in the media, the classy foil to his blustery spray-tanned bravado. With her move to Washington, D.C., which she has been elegantly documenting on her social media channels in the style of a glossy magazine, she clearly aims to bring glamour to the presidency, as the official first lady Melania Trump is staying behind in New York City.
Perhaps Ivanka has even seen and been inspired by the film Jackie, which speaks to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ determination to bring prestige to the presidency, the White House and the nation, even in the face of tragedy and division.
But what she missed in the wee hours of Sunday morning was the acute sense of time and place and how that can collide with fashion. With Kushner acting as one of Trump’s closest advisers, Ivanka has taken on a role that’s symbolic of the presidency, the White House and the nation, one that’s only heightened in moments of tragedy and division.
No matter what you think of Trump’s immigration policy, the country was hurting this weekend. And for Ivanka to cavalierly stage her own personal social media red-carpet photo op at that moment in Washington, D.C., felt, well, icky. A photograph of her doing volunteer work, for example, would have struck a very different note than an image demonstrating her privilege and wealth at a time when the door was literally being shut on so many in the world without it.
Hollywood red carpets and awards shows are also undeniably a self-congratulatory exercise, with many attendees who also enjoy enormous privilege and wealth. The difference is that celebrities are not de facto symbols of our elected officials or de facto symbols of the United States of America. They don’t have to represent all of us on the world stage.
While it’s true, there has never before been a real estate wheeler-turned-reality show dealer in the White House, there are still subtle differences between Hollywood and Washington, D.C. In time, Ivanka will come to understand them.