How magazines are normalizing — and Kardashian-ifying — the Trump family
Before Donald Trump was even sworn in as President, the Trump family was inching its way to Kardashian-level stardom.
In July, the Trumps usurped the Kardashians' status as the most-searched-for family on Google. And seemingly in response, Donald Trump got a glossy, gushing profile and cover on People magazine, debuted mere days after winning the election.
The cover promised a look into his life, his family and his astonishing journey to the White House, as if he was a reality star on the rise — and, as Slate noted, "as if we haven’t already been scrutinizing his lifelong commitment to racism and misogyny, his disturbing relationship to his family members and that violence-riddled journey for the past 18 months."
And, further, as if a former People magazine employee hadn't accused Trump of sexual assault.
So of course people were pissed. But People wouldn't let up, doubling down on its decision to have Trump solo on its cover. "I assure you that the cover on the president-elect is in no way a celebration or endorsement of this deeply polarizing figure," People's editor in chief wrote. "And we continue to stand steadfastly by Natasha. Her attack is of course recounted in the cover story."
Little did we know: that was really just the beginning.
For the cover story of the Us Weekly issue released before the inauguration, Ivanka Trump was the cover art, smiling broadly beneath the headline: "Daughter in chief: Ivanka's new life."
The story itself, released on Jan. 18, talked about Ivanka Trump's new Washington, D.C., digs; what sort of things she talks to her father about; and how she'll manage raising her kids while working in the White House. It began: "Ivanka Trump is going to be a huge deal in Washington."
Then the very next week's cover story, released online Jan. 25, featured not just Ivanka but her brothers Eric and Don Jr., as well as her half-siblings Barron and Tiffany.
"The first family!" the headline screamed. "Staggering wealth, intense competition, unbreakable ties — growing up Trump.'"
Just a few months prior, in November 2015, the Kardashians were similarly called "America's First Family" by Cosmopolitan.
So it seems the crown has been passed.
Yes, the children of presidents have made the cover of Us Weekly before. Malia and Sasha made two appearances, in 2008 and 2009, but they were always nuzzled against a parent, with headlines talking about puppies and their amazing mom — never smiling broadly and posing for a camera by themselves talking about how glorious their lives are; we weren't offered glimpses into their glamorous lives.
The Obamas' magazine covers looked more like the Trump family's did before the election.
For instance, one of People's October 2015 issues. The cover featured Donald Trump, Melania Trump and their child, Barron Trump.
"At home with the Trumps," the headline read. "People goes inside the opulent (and never dull) private world of Donald, wife Melania and son Barron."
The Obamas got a cover like that back in August 2008. "The Obamas at home," the headline read. "From piano practice and pillow talk to who does the chores (not him!), Barack, Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia offer a rare look into their Chicago home."
Despite the striking similarities in the headlines and even the poses, there are two key differences here. One is timing. People's interest in the Trump family started far before the election compared to the Obamas. It was more than a year before the 2016 election that the Trump family cover was printed. For the Obamas, it was just a few months.
This hints at the eagerness of outlets like People to cover the Trumps.
The other evident difference is the tone. Think of each of these covers as an introduction to a reality show. The Trump family cover includes the word "opulent" and "never dull." The Obama family cover, on the other hand, talks about chores and a Chicago home with no fabulous adjective at all.
The Trump family cover reads like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, compared to the Obamas' Full House.
By marketing this family like they're celebrities and not politicians, and marketing their lives as glamorous and luxurious and, yes, opulent, magazines are sending a signal that you should want to be like the Trumps. You should want to live an opulent life, one that's never dull. You know, like the Kardashians.
Never mind that President Donald Trump has already done things that have directly and harshly hurt people and families, such as banning immigrants from majority Muslim countries and stripping funding for abortions worldwide.
"Just focus on the beauty, not the ugly," these covers now say.
It's about aspiration and intrigue, and never scandal — so far. In the next few weeks, you won't get a story on what Melania Trump, an immigrant, thinks about Trump's immigration ban. No, you'll probably get another flattering picture of Barron or of Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner. That's because, if what we've seen so far is any indication, Ivanka's family is ripe for their own People or Us Weekly covers.
Hell, have you seen Ivanka's social media updates lately? Cutely posing with her beau in an expensive silver dress as her father's executive order wreaks havoc in airports across the world? She's positioning herself as a celebrity, not someone with her ear to the ground in the White House.
Who knows if the Trumps are agreeing to this sort of treatment, or if they even approve of these headlines. But one thing's for sure: We are living in unprecedented times, and these magazines are eating it up — and cashing in on it in the process.