The Women in Trump’s Ear
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
Over the course of Trump’s time in the west wing, the number of women in his administration has dwindled, leaving his Cabinet with just four of 23 -- the lowest representation of women at Cabinet level in decades (1). To better understand the women around Trump, I’ve compiled a list that includes three of the women in his Cabinet, his new Press Secretary, and his ever-present, omnipresent daughter (1). The article takes a closer look at the small group of women that comprise a crucial part of the Trump administration, and may have Trump's ear at the end of a day.
It simply makes sense to start with Trump’s right hand woman, the one and only Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana Trump. A shrewd Wharton-educated businesswoman, Ivanka has been at her father’s side to help him broker deals and navigate politics (2, 3) . However, Ms. Trump has not always been a “card- carrying member of her father’s ‘Make America Great Again’ coalition,” (3). Once upon a time, when Ivanka’s main claim to fame was her status as a “New York socialite,” she was vocal about LGBTQ rights and she and Kushner were registered Democrats, actively donating to Democratic politicians (3, 4). Only in 2018 did Ivanka cross party lines to officially join the GOP, declaring herself a “proud Trump Republican,” (3). Despite not having voted for her father in 2016 due to a missed deadline, Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner act as unpaid senior advisors to the president, according to the 2019 White House personnel report (2). Both Ivanka and her husband appear to have benefited from their positions for personal financial gain (5)(6).
The next billionaire on this list, Betsy DeVos was born to a very successful family in Michigan and showed passion for the Republican cause early in her career (7). She volunteered for Gerald Ford’s campaign during college and after graduating, served as chair of the Kent County Republican party and later the Michigan Republican Party (7). DeVos is best known today for being the “billionaire Republican philanthropist” currently occupying the position of Secretary of Education, a seat many argue she is unfit for, considering her undeniable lack of experience with public education (7).
“Since taking office, [DeVos] has proposed billions of dollars in cuts to her own department, hitting class size reductions, after-school programmes, full-service community schools and student loan forgiveness” (8).
The Guardian declares DeVos’s job “safe as long as Trump is president” and quotes Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s point from a 2019 House of Representatives’ education committee meeting that many people will vote in 2020 with the sole intent of getting rid of Betsy DeVos (8).
One of the newer Trump apologists, McEnany was hired as White House Press Secretary in April of 2020 (9). Trump's fourth Press Secretary in just as many years. From her time at Fox News to her new job on Pennsylvania Avenue, McEnany has kept to her evangelical Christian and conservative roots but has “changed her tune” on Donald Trump (9). She initially gained national media attention when she criticized Trump’s rhetoric multiple times during her tenure at Fox, calling him out for his “racist” comments on Mexican people and labeling him a “showman” for his grandstanding tweets and big promises (9). When their 2016 horse-in-the-race candidates lost a state primary or chose to leave the 2016 campaign trail, she (like Kellyanne Conway) easily shifted from Trump critics to fierce defenders of the then candidate, now President. Sean Hannity, Tim Murtaugh, and Jason Miller all vouch for her sharp wit and intelligence and note that she’s not one to back down from a disagreement, even when she’s wildly outnumbered. Another more than capable blonde Trump warrior described by the Guardian as being “straight out of central casting,” McEnany is, to paraphrase Murtaugh, to be underestimated at one's own peril (9). Like Trump, she's super comfortable lying with tremendous confidence (10).
Next we have Elaine Chao, Trump’s 2016 appointee for Secretary of Transportation. Elaine is a veteran Cabinet member, having served as Secretary of Labor under former President George W. Bush (11). A Harvard Business School graduate, Chao has also spent time in the private sector working for Citicorp and Bank of America (11). Her father and sisters own successful New York-based shipping group Foremost Group, and in 2019, Chao was investigated by the House Oversight and Reform Committee for a potential ethical violations for “alleged… leverag[ing]” of her position in the U.S. government to help Foremost Group “gain ‘influence and status’ with the Chinese government, which has given the firm millions in loans,” according to the Washington Post (12). Chao is a registered Republican, the first woman of Asian descent to hold cabinet level office in the United States, and is married to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who is the current Senate Majority Leader (11). In 2019, Politico investigated whether Secretary Chao "created special path for McConnell’s favored projects", including a "a $67 million discretionary grant to upgrade roads in rural Boone County" (13).
And, last but certainly not least, the first woman in U.S. history to serve as Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel was nominated by Trump for the position in 2018, despite her seemingly rocky track record with ethics (14). Though the public knows little about Haspel’s activities with the CIA due to the clandestine nature of the organization, we do know that Haspel commanded “one of the Bush administration’s most notorious ‘black sites’ in Thailand” (14). We also know that during her tenure at this “black site,” Haspel was party to tactics such as “waterboarding, “walling” (slamming [prisoners] repeatedly into walls), sleep deprivation, nudity, and [holding prisoners] in confined spaces (including a wooden box the size of a coffin) for hours at a time” (14). Considering that Haspel was also “directly involved in the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes documenting the CIA’s brutal interrogation and torture of … prisoners,” both Democrats and Republicans voiced their concerns about her nomination to the position (14).
Described by the New York Times as a “career case officer” and “adept tactician,” Haspel reportedly uses techniques from her spy training, “charming the president with small gestures and talking to him with a blend of a hardheaded realism and appeals to emotion” in order to ascertain and maintain Trump’s apparently short attention span (15).