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Ivanka’s Full Frontal

Photo by Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0


Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, loved me.

I return those duties back as are right fit:

Obey you, love you, and most honor you.

— Cordelia, King Lear

Last Sunday Ivanka Trump posted a curiously timed photo of herself nuzzled up to her son with the caption “Sunday Morning.” This came on the heels of news that the US Department of Health and Human Services had lost 1,500 children at the immigration border. Have no fear, The Resistance is here. Leading the cause has been Full Frontal host Samantha Bee. Before diagnosing Ivanka (a far more rewarding task), let us try to understand what full frontal means. The term refers to a completely naked front of the body. This is not to be confused (or maybe it is) with the term “full frontal feminism”.

Clearly, Ivanka’s photo with her son was not full frontal enough as Bee insisted that Ivanka should: “Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt! He listens to you! Put on something tight and low-cut and tell your father to fucking stop it!” This is not the first time the concept of the family has confused Mrs. Bee, as she tipped her hat to eugenics after she had to explain away her three children. Bee said that she and her husband were “just procreating like we’re farmers.” Replace the word farmers with the word Mexicans and you have a Rosanne Barr-like-crisis for liberals.

The liberals got even cuter, with Teen Vogue’s Emily Lindin tweeting: “The only problem with Samantha Bee calling Ivanka Trump a ‘feckless c–t’ is that ‘c–t’ should not be used as an insult. Do better, @iamsambee. C–ts are fun, flexible & strong as hell. Most of us owe our existence to at least one c–t. Ivanka is more like a male nipple.” And do you know who has a male nipple? That’s right, Donald J. Trump. Checkmate. Bob Mueller, your services are no longer needed. Randi Mayem Singer, best known for writing Robin Williams into a dress called the use of “feckless cunt” accurate and descriptive writing. I beg to differ. If feckless has anything to do with lacking intuitive, Ivanka is far from feckless. She is pulling many of the strings of one of the most effective Presidential administrations.

I mean look at what Trump has done to the environment. Just last month, Donald Trump’s administration took to reviewing the protections of 300 endangered species. Also last month Scott Pruitt’s dreadful excuse for an EPA began rolling back car emissions standards. Trump’s 2019 budget aims to cut clean energy research by 72%. Regulation for toxin air pollutants were also lifted this year. While Donald Trump may not have “drained the swamp” in Washington D.C. he certainly drained the National Park Advisory Board, as nine out of twelve members resigned in protest to the earth’s most wicked beast.“Accidental” murder of birds is now legal. The previous law had protected birds from power lines, wind turbines and the like. The EPA also ditched Barack Obama’s clean power plan which went hand in hand with Trump’s bone headed decision to leave the Paris Climate accords. Donald Trump dumped federal flood-risk standards that took into account the rising sea levels predicted by scientists. To no one’s surprise, the EPA has in general been quite lax in their enforcement of any laws whatsoever as found in a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Trump shrunk the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. And let’s not forget that he pushed the Keystone XL pipeline through. And what to make of this President’s embrace of coal? One has to be both stupid and corrupt to support coal at this point, and this man passes the test with flying colors. To open up more drilling places, Trump is privatizing Native American reservations. The rewriting of the PFOA ( perfluorooctanoic acid) regulations is a dangerous move by little Donald. Less regulations of fracking will result in worse clean up jobs and more dirty water. To make matters worse Trump got rid of the Clean Water rule. And then there is expansion of offshore drilling, which no one really wants, but Trump will do anyways.

We can assume the Trump women, like Donald Trump himself, are operating in a universe above the rest of the hysterical country. Just as Melania’s anti-bullying campaign was perfectly tailored to the trapped wife narrative, Ivanka’s photo fit in very nicely with the Daddy’s Girl narrative, which we have to admit has some legs when Donald says “if she weren’t my daughter, I’d be dating her.” On the other hand, it is precisely the spontaneity and absurdity of the Trump clan that has propelled them to become the premiere American family—either public enemy #1 or angelic—with either narrative perfectly suiting whatever the Trumps want to accomplish in free publicity and brand recognition. They are the antithesis to the Clinton Democrat, and they will, sadly beat whomever the Clinton Democrats nominate in 2020. The only force capable of stopping a Trump 2020 victory will be the Democrats pivoting substantially to the left a la Bernie Sanders (and hopefully more left than that). Unless that happens the people will be right not to vote “against Trump” because we will recognize that this strategy is death in both the short term and the long term.

The Clinton Democrat is operating leagues behind the Trump Republican in terms of media savvy and marketing strategy. They remain far too modern and trendy to recognize that the neoliberal game is up and if people are going to buy bullshit, they want real bullshit. No one is very interested in any lessons the Democrats have to tell us about a civilized and moral society because they offer us neither. They promote the same neoliberal fracturing of communities, jobs, the earth and schools that the Republicans do.

Alas, Democrats have made their own bed but seem too busy following the trail of Trump to ever sleep in it. Trump has recognized, and he has even celebrated, the chaos of late stage capitalism with a cartoonish demeanor that has brought the end times early. But if Daddy is the devil, sweet Ivanka remains the angel. After her recent photo, the most common criticism was that she was benignly “tone death”. For the clueless Democrats, Ivanka’s dog whistle was yet again a pitch higher.

The comments section on Ivanka’s photo alternate between alters to her beauty and detriments of her insensitivity. The image is the ultimate Rorschach test. The lighting is creeping; gaining momentum, lifting mother and son to the sky—reminding the viewer that it is a new day where the Trump God will provide us with bountiful beauty just as often as He will strike us with His tiny hands. The photo is All White Everything—the anti-Lupe Fiasco. White dress. White wall. White pajamas. White blonde baby. White blonde mother. The pair are eye-to-eye in an intimate doe-eyed embrace of wonder. It is not that they do not notice the breaking up of immigrant families—it is that they can afford not to notice. The Trumps remain a level above the madness. They are the only stable family in a world of whiny protestors and Mexican thugs. They achieve this illusion by acting as if nothing is happening. The old saying of if you are going to tell a lie, make it a big one over and over again is in play here. The biggest and most bombastic of lies are repeated again and again by this administration and while they may never become true, they do eventually become normal, and therefore real.

Equally normal is the consistent underestimating of the most savvy political family in the country. Barack Obama, the last Democrat with any political savvy, warned us not to underestimate Trump. Since then Obama has remained conveniently silent—but then again one has to tip their hat to him for somehow remaining as a nostalgic memory despite the obvious truth that America was in a position to turn to Trump right after Obama. This was a leap of madness on its face but it was sadly the most logical conclusion when one considers that if Obama was nothing more than an a blast of cool air, he would naturally be followed by the hot air balloon named Donald Trump.

The Obama family was at least sane and likable, which is more than one can say for any of the other Democrats. In their wake comes the relatable fucked up family. What would Freud have to say about the Trump family? Dad is utterly weak and tyrannical, Mom is eerily silent and elegant, Son is arrogant and incompetent and Daughter is angelic and devious. It is a strikingly comfortable scene—something one might watch over a TV dinner. A call to the past of simpler times when a middle class white man in America could be guaranteed a decent life, and his wife and children, while still ultimately under control of the patriarch, would at least have stable financial lives.

As gross as this nostalgia may be one must ask what is the alternative vision for the Democrats? Their product placement seems to aim at whomever reads BuzzFeed and goes to Whole Foods—a fine enough market as far as power is concerned but by no means the majority of the country, or even close to it.

We should be glad that liberalism has challenged the traditional vision of the family. It has been a unit of control for women and children—and a place of limited freedom for men too. Along the way we have opened up new avenues for various sexual orientations, genders, races and all other kinds of people to potentially become a part of the “family”. Count the recent marriage of British Royal Prince Harry to part-black Meghan Markle as a sign of this “new family”. But it also of course is a ridiculous thing to celebrate and it brings to mind Alexander Cockburn’s quip about gay marriage: “I think gay marriage is an incredibly boring subject; though, I do like to hear right-wingers say that it will bring the whole edifice of Western civilization crashing down. It’s hard, these days, to find such messages of good cheer.”

Many are recognizing that a simple replacement of family members with different categories of people is not nearly radical enough and we are seeing an increasing tolerance of many different kinds of lifestyles. This is a welcome break from the narrow constraints that was expected of individuals throughout history. Yet, we are not living in the age of liberalism, but in the age of neoliberalism and this means that the family is being forgotten for reasons that are both good and bad.

The logic of neoliberalism is freedom for the individual. Therefore any communal institution is seen as holding one back. While there are deep problems with the Church and the Family, they have yet to be replaced by meaningful institutions of equality and mutual benefit. While young people are right to be increasingly rejecting religion and the traditional family, we are also spending more time alone. We may be right to reject the expectations of traditional parenting but the truth is that we are not having kids largely because we cannot afford to have them. Another crucial factor is the uncertainty of climate change’s effect on the future as many young people are unsure if they can live a full life, let alone if their children could.

In the selfie era, it is the voiceless, who cannot speak for themselves, that are left behind. These are the animals, the earth, the children, the stateless, the incarcerated—who are given no voice and no vote. The image of Ivanka Trump kissing her son is repulsive for liberal America not only because she is complicit in breaking up immigrant families (Obama did this just as well as Trump). It also remains repulsive for the modern subject because the traditional structure of the family is seen as regressive. The woman’s right to work is a welcomed one but it was surely a woman hating society that decided that men should never play the woman’s role, for men have still not gained the social right to become a full time parent. But it is also the ever privileging of work within capitalism, along with the celebration of the self that declares that parenting and childcare is a secondary task. The people who really lose are the children, who are increasingly left alone as their parents work longer hours for lower wages. They are left to the whims of the crumbling public schools, the looming police state and the toxic internet.

What is lost in the necessary liberation of the self is the fact that we are always better when we work together. Countries that rely on the traditions of old—community, religion, family, are seen as backwards but one has to ask, have we passed them? Neoliberalism may have shattered old and painfully narrow expectations of the self but it has also shattered communities. Now everything is mobile. Have your food from anywhere, your internet from anywhere, even live anywhere. But along the way we have forgotten where we came from. What is the point of finding one’s self if there is no one to share it with?

Jobs are increasingly mobile, temporary, uncertain and disposable. The only thing that is bonded is capital itself. Options for schools have skyrocketed while public schools fall into disarray. Diseases are cured around the world but no one can afford the treatment. One can buy anything from anywhere but labor conditions are at a race to the bottom. All sexualities are embraced, but the average person is having much less sex. Socialism is embraced as a construct by an entire generation but finding a community that has the time and energy to organize has never been harder.

The idea of the family, religion, or even some sense of community in general is often looked down upon by the liberal elites. There is a deep judgement of religious people, especially religious fundamentalists. We cast them aside as backwards people yet to catch up with the new age of globalization. Tied to this judgement of religious people is a judgement of rural people that sees their life away from the cities as one that is primitive and uneducated. Not only are these ideas about large groups of people not helpful, they are simply not true. I find that the most sad and base images are the ones proclaiming self-love and self-care. Say whatever you want about God or the Heartland but at least it means something. At least somebody gives a shit about something, even if its not the same as what we may give a shit about.

Whatever joke that the Democrats think they are playing on Trump is only working on SNL and YouTube. When it comes to real power, the Republicans are the clear winners. But maybe this is how everyone wants it. The Democrats get their cultural superiority, the Republicans get the power to dismantle the modern state.

This is why Ivanka Trump’s image of kissing her son can remain so divisive. It remains for the modern person who believes they are above the barbarism of past times an overly simplistic image that is too crude to be taken seriously. But affluent liberal Americans would be right to consider that Trump hits the right notes and that to truly defeat this backwards image one must indeed engage not only with the world that you want, but the world that you have made. And it is a rebellion against liberalism that neoliberals have created. Perhaps there is some subconscious guilt in the cold hearts of neoliberals because they scold people who reject neoliberalism with a condescending and defensive tone, all the while failing to have an honest and curious mind themselves.

Forget Ivanka’s Sundays, I for one am more worried about the apologizing for Israel that Ivanka is doing from Monday-Friday. But if one were to believe the liberals one would think that it is the liberal and civilized Israel protecting themselves from the patriarchal Hamas brotherhood whose sole mission is the genocide of Jewish people. Israel is perhaps the most vivid example of neoliberalism, where one responds to the economic crisis in Germany that led to the genocide of Jewish people with a colonial settler state totally divorced from economic analysis and created solely as a response to conservative anti-Semitism; with this state soon repeating many of the same mistakes of narrow mindedness its predecessors have precisely because it can only explain people in essentialized and superficial terms.

For Ivanka Trump, kissing her son in the sunlight may be just another Sunday morning. But for most of us, especially stateless people, life under neoliberalism is one full of days of mourning for both sons and daughters. It is unlikely that anyone within the Democratic Party will grasp this as well as the intuitive Trumps and it is very likely that the Trump administration will last nearly half a childhood, and nearly a full one if Ivanka decides to run as the angel to save us from Dad’s doom in 2024. It will be up to the rest of us to find some form of family more egalitarian than the old one to defeat the very stable geniuses in power right now. But as long as the discourse remains about individual freedoms, the left will remain far less appealing than the traditional structure of family we scorn. Donald Trump somehow blasts his liberalism and eats it too, with a blonde porn star on one arm and a blonde daughter on the other. And to think that Democrats say this man doesn’t understand America.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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