The First Daughter

Since Trump’s election, no one (other than the President himself) has been more obviously present at the White House than his daughter, Ivanka. Look! There she is with her adorable children watching her father sign executive orders. Look again! She’s sitting at her father’s desk in the oval office on International Women’s Day. Awww, little Theo is taking his first steps in the East Wing, how adorbs.

But then things got kind of serious. Ivanka Trump’s recent presence at meetings with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left many wondering what exactly is Ivanka’s role in the White House. To help clear this up, Ivanka has made an official statement that she will be joining her father’s administration in an unspecified role. She will not be a government employee, but she will now have her own office in a government building with government issued devices and will be advising the top government official. The only description of her unofficial official role is that she will be her father’s eyes and ears in the White House. Not weird at all. So now that that’s clear. Many people are left wondering, if this ain’t nepotism, what is? And, isn’t there a law against that? The answer is yes, and yes, but also yes, and no. Let me explain.

In brief, the anti-nepotism law prohibits a federal officer “from appointing, promoting, or recommending for appointment or promotion any “relative” of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control.” It is sometimes referred to as “the Bobby Kennedy Law” as it came into place six years after JFK appointed his brother Bobby as the U.S. Attorney General. After LBJ, who loathed RFK, became President, he signed the law which barred future presidents from naming any family member to the Cabinet. The anti-nepotism provision was actually a rider to a bill that established salary rates for postal workers and other government employees. This law, however, generally doesn’t apply when it comes to the President’s staff. And perhaps for good reason. As deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Daniel Koffsky, points out, “A President wanting a relative’s advice on governmental matters has a choice: to seek that advice on an unofficial, ad hoc basis without conferring the status and imposing the responsibilities that accompany formal White House positions; or to appoint his relative to the White House under title 3 and subject him to substantial restrictions against conflicts of interest.”
Given that, in all likelihood, the President is going to seek out advice from whomever he chooses, its better to have that person fill an official role, and therefore be subject to the same ethics standards as everyone else working in the White House. We saw this play out when Trump brought Jared Kushner onto his staff in January. The general consensus, despite the media hysteria, was that there was no solid legal base for not allowing Kushner to be an official advisor to the President.
So, the question now, is why not do the same with Ivanka seeing as her hiring would not violate anti-nepotism laws? The Trump administration would legally be able to hire Ivanka in an official capacity to work as part of his staff, yet for some unknown reason, it has chosen not to. To be clear, just because hiring Ivanka wouldn’t violate the anti-nepotism law, Ivanka’s “non” appointment is 100% nepotism. She has zero experience in policy or politics, and it is safe to say had she not been the president’s daughter, she would never have come close securing a position this high up in the government. But that’s not the issue at hand. The issue is, instead of Ivanka voluntarily complying with ethics standard (which means absolutely nothing) why not just hire her in an official capacity so that she is legally required to comply with ethics standards?

From Built to Last to Built to Trash

I was born into a generation which, when it comes to consuming products, built to last was pushed aside for built to trash.  In an age of disposable everything, trashing goods doesn’t mean we’re disrespectful, it’s simply all we’ve ever known.

My Grandmother polishes the same swiveling walnut barstools and brass bed frame today as she did when the day I was born. I bought a particleboard desk from Ikea, which I kept for a year and couldn’t be bothered to take with me when I moved 10 miles up the road. Not long before my grandparents generation, it was likely whatever goods you were purchasing you probably knew the person making it. This person’s reputation and livelihood depended on making quality goods, goods which were built to last. When I consider every single thing I own today, I can think of only one which I can say I know the maker of; a knit cap my neighbor knitted for my newborn son. The majority of my belongings suggest that I have succumbed to the impulse buy, the quick fix, the cheap thrill more often than I care to admit.  How is it I can have so many articles of clothing, yet nothing to wear?  At some point, I laid down hard earned money these goods! Yet every morning when I peruse my closet for something to wear, the sense of excitement I surely had the day I bought them is nowhere to be found. But my son’s knit cap, this I will cherish and keep forever.

According to Harvard professor Lizabeth Cohen, all the disposable items, the Ikea desks and Forever 21 dresses, fall into one of two categories; planned functional obsolescence, and planned fashion obsolescence. The making of products which are built to break or with design that quickly appears dated was a concept introduced in the late 1940s. After WWII, mass consumption took over and a demand-driven economy was seen as the key to our nation’s continuing prosperity, a point of view which at that point had some truth to it. You see, in the decades following WWII, there was a much closer connection, a more completed circle if you will, between consumer demand, factories, and jobs. Simply put, the goods American’s were buying were made by other American’s. But, all of that changed as capitalism took hold and policies of economic liberalization became de rigueur. Combine this with an increasingly sophisticated advertising sector, and consumer culture was born.
Beyond the economic implications of the desire to consume more, faster, lie the environmental implications. If everyone in the world consumed at the rate we in America consume, we would not only need the virtual armies of slave labor that exist to feed this demanding beast, but three to five planets worth of resources. The amount of energy it takes to make cheap goods at such rapid speeds, not to mention the inability for trashed items to be broken down leaves us all up a stream, with a broken Chinese paddle. It is not physically possible to continue producing goods at the rate we have been for the past 40 years. Our earth simply does not have the resources.  This makes change unavoidable. It’s now our time to decide what kind of change we would like.
Enter inventor, engineer and futurist Saul Griffith. Griffith proposes the romantic yet totally do-able concept of heirloom design. Heirloom design refers to design meant to last generations. Products made to be durable, repairable, upgradeable and aesthetically pleasing. Griffith encourages designers, who he says have been given a power and a privilege, to design things and experiences that will last a very long time, that have been thoughtfully designed and are very beautiful. Things people want to keep. Not only keep, but to pass down for generations because they’re beautiful, functional and timeless. Imagine that.
While sometimes it seems otherwise, we can find plenty of example of heirloom design in the world. Think of Le Creuset pots and pans, Montblanc pens, Leica cameras, Levi 501’s, Vespa motor scooters, Stetson hats. The problem is that for every one Zippo lighter, there are a hundred Snuggies. With a billion potential purchases for each and every one of us, we should explore all of them, then hone in only on the ones which make you happiest, have the most beautiful design, and the best functionality. Let all the others slip away. I promise you won’t miss them.
What about the jobs lost due to people consuming less? If products were more durable, jobs lost due to the decrease in consumption could be offset by the addition of more highly skilled maintenance and repair jobs. And whereas the lost jobs might be overseas, the repair jobs would be local. Additionally, many of the companies who make things that last a century, stand a far better chance of lasting a century themselves. Think about that for a minute.
The less ‘stuff’ the better. A clean house leads to a clean mind and when you clear your clutter, you clear your mind. It all starts with consuming less and consuming better. Our outer environment is intrinsically linked to our inner environment and it’s high time we reclaimed all our spaces. My larger purchases, the methodical ones that required a little discipline, have brought me a lasting happiness impulse buys never do. I set a goal, practiced patience, earned the funds, and acquired it. Now every time I see my hard earned prize it serves as a reminder of a goal achieved. My impulse buys end up reminding me of … well … being impulsive. To quote Griffith, “Selective consumption means you will end up owning less junk, your life less cluttered, and your stuff more beautiful and serve you with more joy.” Sounds good to me.
Each time we approach the check out counter we take a vote. What we purchase frequently we’ll see more of. More local jobs or more support of overseas factories? Timeless design or flash in the pan products? Environmental sustainability or environmental sabotage? It is true that sometimes the initial investment is larger when purchasing heirloom goods that are not only designed to be aesthetically pleasing and last a very long time, but also are made by workers being paid fare wages. To this I say we must exercise a little restraint and realize that at the end of the day the repetitive purchasing of cheaper goods likely ends up costing us more anyway. It certainly does our planet.