Ivanka in the middle

by Richard Thomas

Protester outside Duluth Pack on July 27. Photos by Richard Thomas.

President Trump lost Minnesota in 2016 by only 1.5 percentage points, and said he would have won the state if he came here for “one more speech.” In 2019 and ‘20 he poured millions into his Minnesota campaign, as opposed to mere thousands four years ago.

With a little more than three months until Election Day, he sends … his daughter.

Ivanka Trump visited Duluth to tout her father’s “Pledge to America’s Workers” campaign on July 27. She was hosted by one of the city’s oldest companies, Duluth Pack, founded in 1882.

Her stay was relatively brief while around 50 protesters chanted outside the store in Canal Park.

Duluth Pack’s involvement shocked many of its customers who saw a gobsmacking contradiction between its specialty, catering to outdoor enthusiasts, and Trump’s horrific environmental record.

The company’s marketing relies on images of pristine wilderness. Its website contains an outdoor guide, “How to Prepare for Your Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Camping Trip.”

President Trump, meanwhile, has claimed climate change is a hoax, promoted fossil fuels, withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, rolled back support of clean energy and weakened and eliminated many environmental protections.

Closer to home, in 2017 the Trump Administration renewed Twin Metals’ mining leases, which had been blocked by the Obama Administration. Twin Metals plans to build a copper-nickel mine near Ely and close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Even closer, Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic, whose family controls Antofagasta, the global mining giant that just so happens to own Twin Metals, bought a Washington D.C. mansion in 2017 and rented it to Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Ivanka Trump is no stranger to pushing the margins of ethics. Along with her siblings and husband, she holds a senior position in the administration, raising nepotism concerns. She is not paid for her job, but her private business profiteering has intertwined with her government role.

In 2017 the Chinese government granted her monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services. On the same day, she and Kushner dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago.

Scot Bol sports a plague outfit designed by local artist Mary Plaster.

In 2018 she shut down her line of clothing, going further than other family members in suspending her business activities. But two weeks ago, she courted controversy by promoting Goya products, in apparent defense of the company CEO who drew criticism for praising the president.

A former Democrat, she has tried to cast herself as an environmentalist. She attempted to convince her father that climate change is real, bringing Al Gore to meet with him, but her efforts did not stop the Paris accord exit.

She has promoted the One Trillion Trees Act and the Great American Outdoors Act, praised teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and tweeted pictures of her and Kushner hiking in the wilderness.

Ivanka Trump is also co-chair of the National Council for the American Worker, an advisory body her father created in 2018. (Her own company’s products were made in India, China and other foreign countries.)

The council’s Pledge to the America’s Workers asks companies to expand programs that “educate, train, and reskill” workers. Around 430 companies have signed the pledge, but the council provides no financial support for such programs. Critics view it as meaningless except for show.

Yas Antcliff's sign dubs Ivanka Trump "Amerikkka's Marie Antoinette."

Duluth Pack did not respond by deadline to the Reader’s request for comment.
CEO Tom Sega has declined to comment to other media about Trump’s environmental policies, though he told WDIO-TV, “This is not a political issue … To be chosen was an honor.”

Sega is a graduate of East High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth. After working for more than two decades in paper manufacturing sales, he became a partner in Duluth Pack in 2007.

“At that time, the company was struggling financially,” he told the online environmental magazine Once. “Then, we were at 21 employees between our factory and flagship retail store. Today, we are at 110-plus employees.”

He also owns Spring Creek Manufacturing in Mountain Iron, which produces truck racks and outdoor accessories.

Claire Kirch, one of the protesters, reported on her Facebook page, “Ivanka and her entourage snuck into Duluth Pack through the alley. So a bunch of us went to the alley to wait for her to emerge. The drivers came out and drove the SUV’s to the entrance –  so we RAN to the entrance of the store and when Ivanka and her entourage emerged, they SCURRIED to the SUVs as we SCREAMED AND JEERED! She did not stop for a second to even acknowledge us.”

Duluth Pack received immediate backlash from one of its business partners, Heart Berry, a native-owned company from the Fond du Lac Reservation. In an online statement the same day as Ivanka’s visit, company owner Sarah Agaton Howes said, “It is with a heavy heart that we decided to end our collaboration today with Duluth Pack. As the only Native company that collaborates with Duluth Pack, we have to live and work in line with our values, and our community’s values.”

Local resident Timothy Soden-Groves has suggested a unique method of protest. In a video he takes his Duluth Pack briefcase and uses a knife to cut the stitching on the back of the leather company seal, removing it without damaging the pack. He then mails the seal to the company with a letter stating he “will not return as a customer until you have taken active, ongoing, effective and public measures to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the St. Louis River Watershed and the Waters of Lake Superior.”

Ivanka Trump and Tom Sega appear to be in the same boat, or, to make this a Boundary Waters metaphor, the same canoe.

Perhaps they are genuinely trying to temper the excesses of the Trump Administration and accentuate whatever positive side it has, but their effect seems negligible.

Meanwhile they have drawn the wrath of those they ostensibly side with, the environmentalists who see them as sell-outs. By trying to appeal to both sides, they satisfy neither.