Credit Illustration by Tom Bachtell
There are many reasons to worry about what a Trump Administration holds in store for women. The President-elect has vowed to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Some states will be emboldened to impose restrictive new laws that can become test cases; the Ohio legislature did so last week, passing a bill that effectively bans abortions, with no exception for rape or incest, after six weeks of pregnancy—a point at which many women do not yet know they are pregnant. Janet Porter, an activist against the “criminalization of Christianity,” who has been pushing for the Ohio law since 2011, said, “It’s a brand-new day with a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, and we are very hopeful.”
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are feeling bullish about finally achieving a goal that they’ve sought for years: getting rid of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides health services like cancer screening and contraception, as well as abortion. If a Trump Administration succeeds in dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or simply in eliminating the mandate that health plans include contraception coverage, many more women will lose access to health care and, especially, to more expensive, but also more effective, long-acting contraceptive methods, such as the I.U.D.
Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, is an opponent of the A.C.A. who apparently doubts that any woman in America would have trouble affording birth control. “Bring me one woman who’s been left behind,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “There’s not one.” Under Jeff Sessions, the anti-abortion Alabama senator whom Trump has named as his candidate for Attorney General, the Justice Department is unlikely to provide robust protection for abortion clinics. Eric Scheidler, the head of Pro-Life Action League, a group that leads confrontational protests outside such clinics, wrote earlier this month, “With Jeff Sessions at Justice, pro-life activists like me can breathe a sigh of relief.” As members of Congress, both Sessions and Price voted against the federal Violence Against Women Act when it last came up for reauthorization. For Labor Secretary, Trump has in mind Andrew Puzder, the C.E.O. of the company that runs Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. An opponent of raising the minimum wage and of expanding overtime pay, Puzder, referring to the company’s ads, told the magazine Entrepreneur, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”
Trump won the Presidency despite a well-documented penchant for the vulgar belittlement of women, and with the help of a fan base energized by chants of “Lock Her Up.” The oddly medieval demonization of Hillary Clinton continues among Trump supporters: see the conspiracy theory that posits her as a child-sex-trafficking witch, hiding in tunnels beneath a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, where last week a man turned up with an assault-style rifle to “self-investigate” the claim.
To be fair, Trump has suggested one decent policy for women and families: a six-week paid maternity leave, which would indeed end a national disgrace. (The U.S. is the only developed country with no guaranteed family leave.) But the plan pointedly omits paternity leave, enshrining an old-fashioned view of families and potentially creating new grounds for employment discrimination against women. Details of how the plan would be funded—by eliminating fraud in unemployment insurance—are murky.
There is a popular notion that Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a self-proclaimed avatar of “women who work,” will ward off her father’s worst excesses. (It seems unlikely that Trump’s wife, Melania, will play such a role: after proposing, late in the campaign and apparently without irony, that her mission as First Lady would be to campaign against bullying, she has retreated to the background, and will reportedly be staying in New York with the couple’s son, Barron, when the President-elect moves into the White House.) Trump has already started outsourcing to Ivanka issues related to women. At a rally in Iowa, in September, he explained that it was because of his daughter that he took up the maternity-leave proposal. He imitated her, saying, “Daddy, Daddy, we have to do this.” A recent piece in the Times reported that, when Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, spoke to Trump by phone shortly after the election and raised the subject of women’s issues, he handed the phone to Ivanka.
Perhaps Ivanka Trump will succeed in persuading more people that she is an aspirational figure who can seamlessly combine running her (made-in-China and, in the future, Ethiopia) clothing line with advising her father on policy matters, keeping a hand in the old family business (she’s said to be considering a leave of absence from the Trump Organization), and bringing up her three young children. She does seem to have found a new way of having it all. After the election, she appeared in a family interview on “60 Minutes,” and her company sent out a press release touting the bracelet she wore, available for $10,800. The fact that she is negotiating licensing deals in Japan did not stop her from meeting with her father and Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, in the President-elect’s first sitdown with a foreign leader.
But, even if Ivanka does want to be a steadying hand on the wheel, it’s unclear how much influence she’ll have. Last week, she and her father discussed climate change with Al Gore, but a couple of days later the President-elect announced his selection for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate-change skeptic who has sued the agency he now seeks to run. And anyone who hoped that Ivanka might be a voice decrying the white supremacists and anti-Semites activated by her father’s campaign is still hoping.
In her unelected, unappointed capacity, Ivanka Trump calls to mind a daughter not so much of American democracy as of nepotistic autocracy. In the U.S., if family members who don’t hold office get too mixed up in governing, hackles are raised, as Bill and Hillary Clinton discovered when he put her in charge of health-care reform. And in countries where ruling families have used elected office to promote their own business dealings democratic freedoms tend to be correspondingly weak.
The United States almost had its first female President, who, however flawed as a candidate, would certainly have protected the fundamental rights of women, among other now newly vulnerable groups. Instead, we have a First Daughter, and what she will protect—or undermine—we really don’t know. ♦