Reader, a document of mesmerizing strangeness and churning fascination has revealed itself, and you can examine it here on the website of Ivanka Trump’s one-woman lifestyle brand, ivankatrump.com. It appears to be a how-to guide written by the interns at the company. Called “How to Survive as an Unpaid Intern,” it inaugurates an “intern series” produced by “#teamIvanka’s … smart, savvy interns,” addressing “topics that are top of mind for interns in any industry.”
These topics include dilemmas such as: “You don’t have a paycheck, but you still have living expenses. It can be tough for already-stressed college students who know that internships are incredibly valuable in building a foundation for your career, but aren’t sure if they can afford to work for free. What’s to be done?”
Great question! Do you shake your fist at the injustice of unpaid internships and seek employment with a more principled company elsewhere? Do you sign over your soul to the demon Mammon in exchange for a treasure chest filled with Ivanka Trump brand diamonds? Do your parents already own a treasure chest filled with Ivanka Trump brand diamonds, so it’s no big deal?
Luckily, the author of this how-to guide is on her third unpaid summer in New York City, so she’s figured out a few tricks by now, “as have the other interns at Ivanka Trump HQ”—by necessity, because their employer is evil. (Neither the interns nor Ivanka Trump HQ responded to a request for comment.) Her hacks include saving up during the school year, taking on a part-time job, asking for reimbursement for lunch or transportation (you may not get it, of course, but you come off looking mature and confident), socializing on the cheap, and budgeting wisely. The writer quotes a co-intern who points out that “there’s actually an upside to having limited funds: ‘It forces you to think about what you really want to do.’ ” For instance, I can imagine this bubbly, sweet person elaborating, you might really want to eat. Or sleep with a roof over your head. As the summer progresses, you may figure out how to subsist entirely on dreams and the trailing floral memory of Ivanka’s perfume that one time she stopped by the office to autograph your ATM receipt (balance: $0). But for now, it helps to have a plan!
What should we make of this text? To the naked eye, it truly seems to be a merry, aspirational list of strategies for smiling through exploitation unself-consciously released by a band of 19-year-old serfs with Stockholm Syndrome. But perhaps it is more complicated than that. What if this chirpy blog post is in fact a devious act of sabotage, a campaign attack on Donald Trump coming from inside the house?
“It’s always important to allocate money wisely,” the interns write, “but even more so when you aren’t bringing in an income to supplement your spending.” Tell that to the man Fortune magazine estimates is sitting on a $1 billion debt, having squandered between $1 and $6 billion of his father’s riches on ill-advised business deals. “My theory is that we’re young and have a lot of energy,” adds the eager child who is souping up her earnings with an additional job. Trump is 70. He doesn’t even have the energy to learn what NATO does.
Machiavelli would be proud.
As for Ivanka, we so desperately want her glimmering aura of competence and elegance to mean that she isn’t as morally bankrupt as her dad. (Maybe she’s not, but that’s an extremely low bar.) We want her to be a feminist because she said feminist-sounding things at the Republican convention, even though Trump espouses exactly no feminist things—not maternity leave, abortion, equal pay, public health care, public education—in his platform and polls terribly among women. We want her to be good because every storm cloud needs a silver lining, right? And she was so restrained and cool on Celebrity Apprentice—like a drink of water in the desert smog of her father’s flamboyance and absurdity.
But it may be time to face the fact that Ivanka Trump is a bad person. Failing to compensate your interns when your company centers on female empowerment, on paradigms for a freer, more creative office, and on professional self-respect looks awful, because it is. Ivanka’s own branding aside, how can she claim to stand for wage equality and paid parental leave when she can’t even acknowledge the importance of coupling labor with a salary? How can she allow her website to dispense advice on surviving unpaid internships when she works for her daddy? Ivanka, who has celebrated the Trump name’s “deep connection to luxury and success,” might perhaps consider that one hallmark of successful luxury is the ability to remunerate your employees. Or she might pause, a single manicured finger about to tap the key that would tweet out #nomoneynoproblems to the world, and shiver, briefly, at the gallows humor of it all.
Back to the interns. You’d think these young woman would be too busy sensibly “allocating” all that money they are not earning at their jobs to undertake political vandalism. But posts such as “Picking Your Negotiation Battles” unmask them as ruthless tactical thinkers. My theory is that Trump’s “smart, savvy” bondservants, fed up with their employer’s hypocrisy, have decided to garnish it in the most deliciously subversive way possible and serve it back to her cold. Now someone just needs to get them a (paid) gig for the Clinton campaign before they starve to death.