September 25, 2017

“Every woman adores a fascist”: Ivanka, the Donald, and Sylvia Plath, because this is 2017


Sylvia Plath, finding new ways to depress us today.

Welcome to the Now: an era that will gain prestige in the annals of history for murderous sex robots, failed promises of taco trucks, and petulant leaders of the free world being driven around in golf carts during international summits (and also taunting dictators with grade school-level nicknames… at the goddamn UN). The Now is tweetstorms, automatic audio on automatic-start Facebook videos, Snapchat filters used for the greater good.The Now is our life post-news, pre-annihilation.

Amid this cacophony of crap, when everything matters and thus ultimately not a damn thing matters, a new dialogue arises. It consists of blog posts that, when the world was sane, would never have been considered necessary, or even conscionable. And the latest contender in this dialogue is an amazing post by Rachel Kraus, columnist at the LA Review of Books, that uses Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published 1962 poem “Daddy” to help us understand the very, very unsettling relationship between Donald Trump and his eldest daughter, White House advisor, bad writer, and “piece of assIvanka, as well as our fraught relationship with the word “Daddy.”

Backstory: this blog-post-slash-paper-I-wish-I-wrote-for-Intro-to-Gender-Studies class is a reaction to Trump’s comments earlier this month during a rally in North Dakota, where he said that not only does Ivanka refer to him as “daddy” but that he “loves it” (of course he does). Kraus goes into detail on why the use of “daddy” makes us uncomfortable in certain situations, but spends more time comparing Donald Trump to Plath’s own “Panzer Man” of a father, Otto Plath. She even makes parallels between Plath’s father-replacement figure, husband Ted Hughes (“the vampire who said he was you”) and Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner. “Ivanka remains beholden to both father and husband,” she writes. “So while in ‘Daddy,’ Plath breaks the cycle of control perpetuated by first her father and then her husband by killing them both, in the Trump family, the vampire is alive and well.”

Of course, the easiest comparison is made with Plath’s most memorable line:

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

And while finding hot takes to the effect that Trump is a fascist is by no means difficult, Kraus does a killer job of pointing out the subtle distinctions between acting like a fascist and just being narcissistic:

Trump has not been officially diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But certain traits such as an inability to accept blame and an inflated sense of one’s abilities are hard to deny…. Enter Ivanka, stumping for her father in North Dakota as he… fails to connect extreme weather events across the country with climate change—even though she was previously a global warming activism advocate—and smiling as he says he likes it when she calls him “daddy.” Every woman adores a fascist.

Is this news? Not really. Is it commentary? Sort of. It’s more a bizarre hybrid of poetry criticism and political review, with Kraus showing us the strange, horrifying correlations between our current leader and the poetry that made us goth in high school. Forgive us, but we’ve got to refamiliarize ourselves with The Bell Jar in preparation for President Pence.



Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.