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We’ve talked plenty about how Donald Trump’s indictment and arraignment might affect his latest presidential bid. We’ve pondered their meaning for the future of the republic.
But “whither America?” isn’t the question. Whither Ivanka? A fair-haired, fair-weather daughter has allegiances to re-examine and decisions to make, and not just about what to wear if there are jailhouse visits to come. Right here, right now, does she stand by Daddy? Or does she treat Mar-a-Lago as if it were Three Mile Island and run as fast and as far from it as she can?
Nepotism was never supposed to be this hard.
I ache for Ivanka. But mostly, I marvel at her — and at the many, many people like her who have a special talent, a preternatural discipline, for pausing at every pivotal crossroads and making a coldblooded, single-minded assessment: How do I navigate this to maximum advantage for me?
Ivanka navigates like Magellan. She’s GPS made flesh. At times, the coordinates and calculations have been easy: Daddy’s going to the White House; I will not be left behind. She traipsed after him to Washington. She traipsed after him to meetings with European leaders. She even traipsed after him to the Demilitarized Zone. She did so much traipsing that Twitter had a hashtag for it: #unwantedivanka. And then Daddy was dethroned, and the traipsing just wasn’t what it used to be.
Things got tricky: Daddy sent those ruffians to the Capitol, where they made a horrible mess and threatened to maul Mike Pence. Ivanka recalculated. For her appearance before the Jan. 6 committee, she wore a glimmer of disapproval.
And now, well, there’s no figuring out where to turn or whom to burn. Daddy was just hauled into a Manhattan courthouse because of that smuttiness with the porn star. Can Ivanka play the part of a distracted onlooker without seeming like a 24-karat ingrate?
Nothing good for her can come of this, so she’s saying and doing almost nothing at all. She’s in limbo. She’s in hiding. She has gone from gaga to Garbo and wants to be left alone, at least until the Stormy weather clears.
She did, according to a report in The New York Post, visit Daddy at Mar-a-Lago on Sunday. And last week, following his indictment, she put out that statement about it on Instagram. But it read as though it were written by a chatbot getting a pedicure. It comprised just 27 weightless, gutless, exquisitely noncommittal words — about loving Daddy, about loving America, about being “pained.” His indictment is a kidney stone to be passed.
And she’s the patron saint of all the unscrupulous opportunists who are taking little or big steps away from Daddy but contentedly ignored his depravity and destructiveness when there was power to be gained from that. When there was a profit to be made.
The day of Donald Trump’s indictment, a team of Times journalists reported that wealth funds in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar had invested hundreds of millions of dollars with a private equity firm that Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, started not long after he and she left the White House, where they had cultivated close ties to the Arab world.
That’s the bonanza that Ivanka R.S.V.P.’d to, not the bedlam since November 2020, not the ravings of Sidney Powell, the rioter in Viking horns, that wacky Waco rally, all these icky criminal cases.
For Daddy’s current presidential campaign, she sent her regrets. “This time around,” she said in a statement released the same night he announced his candidacy, “I am choosing to prioritize my young children.” Were they not priorities before?
She added that she didn’t “plan to be involved in politics.” The thing about plans is they can change. Ivanka’s vanishing act is a testament to that.
Her brothers are picking up any slack. Their reactions to Daddy’s indictment were as insane as hers was insipid. “This is stuff that would make Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot — it would make them blush,” Donald Jr. said.
Pol Pot? Junior and I clearly had different history teachers, and there are gaps in his moviegoing that cry out for filling. Note to self: Send him a DVD or link to “The Killing Fields.”
It’s a cracked political religion that the Brothers Trump practice, but at least they’re keeping the faith. Their sister has strayed. She always wanted all the glory without any of the sacrifice, Air Force One without the gale-force controversies, the big, bright stage that Daddy gave her without the critics’ pans. She always insisted that her transaction with him — oops, I mean relationship — keep her in the black.
It’s not doing that anymore, so she’s establishing distance and projecting detachment, but in a pained way, with all that love in her heart. #unwantedivanka wants to turn the page. She may find that impossible when the text is this soiled.
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For the Love of Sentences
Usually, I reach back no more than about two weeks for these prose snippets, confined to examples of very recent journalism. But my March leave from the newsletter meant no “Love of Sentences” for a month, so I’m reaching back as far as late February this week. And considering how long it has been since we loved sentences together, I’m sharing more snippets than I usually do.
Anthony Lane had great fun reviewing the movie “Cocaine Bear,” which lends new definition to the phrase “high concept”: “Allegedly, it’s based on true events, in much the same way that ‘Pinocchio’ is based on string theory.” Also: “The animal kingdom is represented by a butterfly, a deer and a black bear. Only one of these is on cocaine, although with butterflies you can never really tell.” (Thanks to Andrew Rich of Portland, Ore., and Harry Schaefer of Silver Spring, Md., among others, for flagging lines from Lane’s appraisal.)
Also in The New Yorker, Nathan Heller described the effect of the internet and smartphones on college students’ attention spans: “Assigning ‘Middlemarch’ in that climate was like trying to land a 747 on a small rural airstrip.” (Rudy Brynolfson, Minneapolis, and Marilyn Wilbanks, Ellensburg, Wash.)
In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan weighed in on the chilliness of Ron DeSantis, who gives her the feeling “that he might unplug your life support to re-charge his cellphone.” (Maggi Ashworth Jones, Houston)
In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson remarked on DeSantis’s tortured formulation of a viewpoint about the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “Apparently no one told Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that if you’re going to wade into the deep waters of foreign policy, you should at least know how to dog paddle.” (Mary Cooper, Arlington, Va.)
While we’re on the subject of DeSantis, Jay Parini reviewed his new book, “The Courage to Be Free,” for CNN.com, writing that it takes “the usual dullness” of these exercises in political branding “to a fresh level, redefining what clichéd writing can sound like. It’s one thing to offer the public a bit of wooden prose, but DeSantis gives us an entire lumber yard.” (Joe Furlong, Muscatine, Iowa)
In The Times, Carlos Lozada pondered the array of enemies that DeSantis identifies in the book: “There’s the news media, with modifiers like ‘legacy’ or ‘corporate’ adding a nefarious touch. There’s Big Tech, that ‘censorship arm of the political left,’ and the powerful corporations that cave to the ‘leftist-rage mob.’ There are universities like Harvard and Yale, which DeSantis attended but did not inhale.” (Vipan Chandra, Attleboro, Mass.)
Also in The Times, Nate Cohn commented on the uncharted waters of a former president who is also the current front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination being indicted: “This is the blurry corner of the map where we can’t do much more than draw fantastical sea creatures.” (Barbara Reichman, Port Murray, N.J.)
Michelle Goldberg mulled Republicans’ obsession with culture war issues: “Ronald Reagan used to describe conservatism as a three-legged stool, comprising social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and defense hawks. These days it looks a lot more like a pogo stick.” (Steve Summit, Cambridge, Mass., and Paul McKay, Albemarle, N.C.)
Elizabeth Spiers reflected on Gwyneth Paltrow’s aura in the courtroom — and in life: “This combination of obscene wealth and an affinity for baroque lifestyle routines gives Ms. Paltrow a Marie Antoinette vibe — if Marie Antoinette thought the hungry should opt for bone broth.” (Jo Wollschlaeger, Portland, Ore.)
Michael Wilson recalled Bruce Springsteen’s first triumphant run as a headliner at Madison Square Garden in 1978: “He would return more than 40 times in the decades that followed, putting him shoulder-to-shoulder with most every musical act except Billy Joel, who still performs at the Garden frequently enough to have his mail forwarded there.” (Arthur Rothstein, San Francisco)
And Nathan Englander contrasted Tom Cruise in his 50s with a typical movie star of that age 50 years ago: “Try Walter Matthau in ‘The Taking of Pelham 123.’ I’m not saying he wasn’t a dreamboat. I’m saying he reflects a life well lived in the company of gravity and pastrami.” (Pete Epstein, Mashpee, Mass., and Paul Goldberg, Stamford, Conn.)
To nominate favorite bits of recent writing from The Times or other publications to be mentioned in “For the Love of Sentences,” please email me here and include your name and place of residence.
What I’m Writing, Doing and Reading
Although I was away from the newsletter in March, I did contribute to Times Opinion in the form of this essay about what’s wrong with most college rankings and how many students approach the process of applying to colleges. It’s a subject I feel strongly about, as reflected in my 2015 book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” My Times essay accompanied Gus Wezerek’s thoughtful examination of the good and bad choices that an array of college graduates made and this excellent new tool for personalized college rankings that The Times’s Quoctrung Bui and Jessia Ma put together.
At Duke University at 6 p.m. on April 27, I’ll have the privilege of interviewing NPR’s Nina Totenberg about her book “Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships” and related matters. Although the event is free and open to the public, you do need to get a ticket. Details here.
A new acquaintance of mine who took my measure quickly and accurately sent me a book I’m delighted to have and will dive into as soon as I get the chance. It’s “The Other Family Doctor: A Veterinarian Explores What Animals Can Teach Us About Love, Life and Mortality” by Karen Fine, who contributed this recent guest essay to Times Opinion.
On a Personal Note
I sometimes think I could write my own book on what dogs, specifically, do for us — and I don’t mean the herding, the hunting, the guarding. I mean what they do for us emotionally and spiritually. My relationship with Regan would give me much of the material I need, and that material would include how dogs turn our attention toward, and heighten our appreciation of, nature.
The centrality of an animal or animals in our lives reminds us of all the other animals out there, of how the world teems with remarkable and curious creatures, some of which our dogs and cats bark or hiss at, some of which they chase, a few of which they kill, at least if they’re sufficiently bloodthirsty and skilled.
But dogs also connect us with nature because they invite and encourage us to venture with them into it. We spend more time outdoors and more time appreciating the outdoors, whether we’re in cities, suburbs, exurbs or rural areas.
With Regan, I take forest walks of a length and adventurousness that I wouldn’t otherwise, and when her nose twitches and her ears swivel at the smell or sound of something, I find my own curiosity piquing, my own senses sharpening. I hear the woodpecker that had escaped my notice just seconds before. I see the white tail of a deer almost obscured in tall grass. To follow Regan’s gaze is to be introduced to the turtle moseying over the lip of the creek, to the fat wild turkey waddling up a distant slope. They were always there, but I wasn’t around to note them, or I wasn’t surveying the landscape with the requisite reverence.
But take the woods and the hikes out of the equation and Regan still reorients me toward the natural world. A walk with her around the block means breezes and bird song. In opening the door to let her out of and into the house, I notice a shimmering orange sun as it tugs itself above the horizon, a smudgy red one as it takes its final bow. I pause. I say a silent thanks. For the beauty of that. For the dog in the dimming light.
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