Ivanka Trump. Picture: AFP
Ivanka Trump. Picture: AFP

Ivanka behind Trump's accidental SOTU moment

It is usually hard to discern any common ground between Donald Trump and the Democrats.

They loathe each other, and like to show it as frequently and ostentatiously as possible.

But while Mr Trump's State of the Union speech this week was littered with swipes at his opposition, and Democrats mainly sat stony-faced while Republicans around them stood and applauded, there was one striking moment that unified the room.

"All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before," Mr Trump said.

"And exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than ever before."

A large group of women on the Democrats' side of the chamber had come wearing white in a tribute to the suffrage movement. Many of them were just elected in November.

In response to Mr Trump's words, they leapt to their feet, cheering, dancing and high-fiving each other. The room then erupted into a bipartisan chant of "USA! USA!".

Trump tried to take credit for women's successes against him, including his daughter's.
Trump tried to take credit for women's successes against him, including his daughter's.

Now, a determined cynic could interpret the women's reaction as a dig at the President.

Many of them were only there because of Mr Trump's unpopularity, which sparked a surge of votes for the Democrats in last year's midterm elections. Perhaps they enjoyed the chance to rub in that fact, and hijack Mr Trump's State of the Union speech in the process.

But there was no real hint of bitterness in the air. Mr Trump observed the women with a bemused grin, Republicans applauded, and all in all it was probably the one genuinely gracious and good-natured moment of the night.

Meanwhile, cheering along in the gallery above was the woman behind the President's sudden, apparent concern for the plight of working women - his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

The next line of Mr Trump's speech, lost amid the mayhem, was a vindication of her efforts in the administration. The President announced he would soon launch a policy she had been working on for a year - a "first ever" initiative focusing on the economic empowerment of women in developing countries.

Mr Trump signed a memorandum officially establishing the Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative today. The program aims to help 50 million women in developing countries "realise their economic potential" by 2025.

"This new initiative will for the first time co-ordinate America's commitment to one of the most undervalued resources in the developing world - the talent, ambition and genius of women," Ivanka wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Expanding women's participation in the economy could boost global economic output by a whopping $12 trillion in the next six years, she said.

"This number represents far more than an economic boom - it represents millions of lives full of promise. Mothers who could provide for their children, daughters who could be the first to graduate from high school, and young women who could start businesses and create jobs.

"By investing in women, we are investing in a future in which countries can support themselves by unleashing the potential of their own people."

The program will operate under what she calls "a cohesive three pillar structure", which is annoying corporate speak for saying it has three goals.

The first is to improve workforce development and vocational education for women. The second is to help female entrepreneurs, who often struggle to get financing. Finally, the program seeks to eliminate legal, regulatory and cultural barriers that exclude women.

"According to the World Bank, more than 100 countries prohibit women from working in specific industries, which means 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men," Ivanka pointed out in her article.

"In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working and earning their own income. In many more, women are unable to inherit land or open bank accounts without permission."

It is unclear how effective the new program will be, particularly as Mr Trump has only committed a modest sum of $US50 million so far. The mathematicians among you will realise that is just one dollar for each woman Ivanka is aiming to help.

But it is nevertheless a strikingly un-Trumpian policy, and a reminder of Ivanka's ability to occasionally soften her father's views.

It echoes her previous efforts to advance women's issues inside the administration. She pushed for a new women's finance initiative at the World Bank, lobbied politicians to support tax breaks for working families and supported paid family leave, among other things.

In this case, she has moderated Mr Trump's attitude towards foreign aid. The money for her new program will be administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), whose funding the President has previously tried to cut by as much as a third.

And she is quietly offering her father another, less combative style of politics to consider.

"Advancing greater equality and opportunity for women is a crucial area in which Republicans and Democrats can find common ground and pass historic bipartisan legislation," she wrote today.

"In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to build partnerships and work with members of both parties to advance women's economic opportunities, promote female entrepreneurship and lift barriers to full economic participation."

For each bipartisan sentiment Mr Trump expressed in his State of the Union speech, he took more than one swing at the Democrats sitting in front of him.

He warned them no legislation would get passed if they insisted on investigating him, his finances or his campaign.

He threatened to shut down the government again, should they fail to pass funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

In other words, he doubled down on the constant hostility that has defined his presidency.

We saw what voters thought of that in the midterms. And if Mr Trump needed a reminder, it was right in front of him on Wednesday night - a sea of white blazers and pantsuits.

Maybe he should listen to his daughter more often.


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