Ivanka isn’t the only Trump child in London this week. Tiffany has been in Europe since last month’s Cannes Film Festival, where she cost American taxpayers almost $20,000 for her security detail’s hotel rooms alone, according to Quartz. She was also a guest at Monday’s state banquet, although what she had to say of worth to the chairman of HSBC, seated beside her, is hard to imagine. Don Jr. and Eric were also in tow. As former Reagan adviser Mark Weinberg writes for CNN, bringing adult children on a state visit is an unusual move for a US president. But for Donald Trump, it seems to be part of a strategic plan to present his own brood as an alternative royal family.
When any American leader meets the British royals, it’s always a little awkward. America, unlike Britain, prides itself on having long abolished hereditary privilege in politics — at least officially. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Paine, the great Founding Father, wrote, “We cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession.” When most American presidents meet British royals, the most awkward issue has been how best to avoid the word “republic,” and steer well clear of mentioning how exactly Paine and his friends threw off the monarchical yoke of Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great-grandfather.
This time, things are a little different. With Trump, there doesn’t seem to be the traditional American skepticism of monarchy. Instead, he wants in.
In a major interview with British tabloid The Sun, owned by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, Trump told interviewers of his hope that his own children could hold a “next generation” meeting with Princes William and Harry. The idea of a “next generation” meeting had also been widely briefed by American officials beforehand. “Next generation” of what, exactly? Does Trump dream that in 30 years, President Ivanka of the United States will be meeting with King William of the United Kingdom? It’s one thing for a US president to take his kids along for an exciting foreign trip; it’s quite another for him to present them as an alternative royal family.
It’s true that the Trump offspring are already following in the footsteps of the British royal family’s worst excesses. Racking up taxpayer-funded security costs because one would like to go to a party is exactly how Prince Harry spent his youth, and how Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, spent her recent baby shower. (It doesn’t matter if the trip, like Meghan’s, is paid for by friends — the cost is always in accompanying security.)
And like the Queen, Donald Trump knows all about inheriting an empire and presiding over its managed decline. Although he once claimed that he had started his career with a mere $1 million loan from his father, that was, as biographer Timothy O’Brien has written, a lie. Trump inherited huge amounts of wealth from his father, Fred. And, as first reported by The New York Times, according to his own tax filings from 1985 to 1994, Trump has taken huge losses. It’s not quite like losing sovereignty over 695 million people, as the British royals did between 1945 and 1965, but it’s getting there.
Yet for all their wealth and fading influence, the British royals still maintain a role as public servants. Even former party-boy Prince Harry seems to have grown up into a clean-living philanthropist in recent years, conforming to the narrative of redemption and responsibility that the Brits have loved to project onto their princes ever since Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” The young quartet of royals — Harry, Meghan, William and Kate — have all made a striking commitment to ending the stigma around mental health. There is much good done by these four, however arbitrary their royal advantages.
If Trump wants his children to form an American royal family, he needs to start teaching them how to give back to society. That probably means something a bit more altruistic than Eric and Don Jr. running the Trump enterprises (and pinkie swearing to ethics officials that they don’t run the business with dad).
Ivanka, at least, seems committed to her Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which she says seeks to reach 50 million women in the developing world by 2025. Yet she runs this and her other philanthropic endeavors while serving as an adviser to her father in the White House. Whereas one reason the Brits still tolerate an anachronism such as a hereditary monarchy is that the royals — officially — keep out of the grubby world of politics.
If Donald Trump really wanted his children to become like British royals, he’d need to teach them the distinctly Windsor art of giving up power gracefully. British royals never comment on politics — and they don’t even run their own Twitter accounts. The prospect seems, well, distinctly unTrumpish.
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