Ivanka Trump and Food Boxes

Jan. 19, 2021

Why it was unbecoming for the First Daughter to milk the USDA's food box program.

In George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” the title character, a major in the Salvation Army, gets this admonishment: “It is cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one hand and a slice of bread in the other.”

The topic was converting starving people to Christianity, but it’s a principle that applies equally well to conversions to Republicanism. Or Trumpism.

That came to mind when I saw this Politico article about Ivanka Trump milking the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program for all the political credit she can. She claims to have inspired the program in the first place, after seeing news reports about food being wasted because of supply chain problems caused by the pandemic. Since then, we’ve been treated to a flurry of photo ops of Ivanka hauling corrugated cases of surplus produce, milk, etc. on the loading dock of a food bank. Her last public appearance, after the Capitol riot and just before her father’s second impeachment, was on a Zoom call with Christian leaders to promote the program.

Well, she’s her father’s daughter. President Trump got slammed in October for insisting that letters bearing his signature be included in all FtF food boxes; in some cases, food banks and other nonprofits had to put in extra hours of scarce labor to add the letters. That came after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was ordered to reimburse taxpayers for a trip to North Carolina (a crucial swing state that Trump would narrowly win) where, at a USDA event about FtF, he broke into effusive praise of Trump: “Mr. President, as you saw those throngs of people lining both sides of the road...those were a part of those forgotten people that voted for you for 2016,” etc. I think that on top of repaying his trip costs, Perdue ought to pay a fine just for being so embarrassing.

Of course the Trumps are far from the only politicians ever to milk a government program or project for political gain. It’s why politicians like building bridges way more than they like filling potholes; a pothole doesn’t make for a very impressive ribbon cutting.

But as usual, what other politicians have done in the past, the Trumps did louder and with less grace. Food for the poor is fundamentally different from major projects like bridges; it’s a constant, basic need, and a human right. Government programs to help hungry people can be debatable, even controversial, but exploiting them for political advantage is, well, exploitative.

“Food assistance shouldn’t be politicized and it’s now being used as a tool to soften Ivanka’s image,” a food-assistance advocate complained to Politico. She is reportedly eyeing her own political career, possibly as a U.S. Senator from Florida.

Well, if Ivanka Trump thinks she can overcome her father’s baggage, it is, as they say, a free country. But she’ll probably have to find something to stand on besides a case of food donated by somebody else.

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