For a while it was James Comey. Then it was Robert Mueller. For a brief moment, the internet’s liberal pundits speculated that perhaps Melania Trump herself could be the truth-teller we need to stand up to Donald Trump. But one seemingly unhappy marriage isn’t the basis for popular liberation and neither, it turns out, are two former directors of the FBI. The prayer candles and the rumor-mongering about the president’s imminent downfall all came to nothing. The resistance — or at least, the faction that spends altogether too much of its time online — rode on in search of a new savior.
They’ve settled on Claudia Conway, the 15-year-old daughter of George and Kellyanne, counselor to the president. When Claudia announced on TikTok last weekend that her mother had tested positive for coronavirus , she also broke a major news story. One of the president’s chief apologists had been brought low by her own daughter. Not only did Kellyanne have COVID-19, Claudia claimed, she’d lied to her own family about her diagnosis. The older Conway later confirmed her illness on Twitter, one of many now associated with the Trump White House outbreak.
In the following days Claudia returned to TikTok to “clarify” her original claim about her mother: Kellyanne wasn’t lying, she now said, she really did test negative until finally she didn’t. Kellyanne herself can be heard in one video shouting at her daughter. It’s an uncomfortable scene, and a reminder that Claudia, for all her influence, isn’t old enough to drive.
For journalists this sets up a dilemma. Claudia could potentially be a newsworthy figure: Kellyanne is loyal to Trump. Her husband George, is a Republican Never-Trumper. Claudia’s erstwhile Twitter account and active TikTok thus offer an inside look into one of the most politically relevant households in the U.S. She’s also a child, and possibly an unreliable narrator. Neither she nor the press is to blame for the fact that the White House has been an untrustworthy and reluctant source of information about the president’s health. In the absence of credible leadership, we’re left to rely on anyone with insight. But there’s no way to verify the claims she makes on TikTok, either. She’s said, for example, that Trump is doing much worse than he’s admitted in public. This is plausible, but unless the president’s health dramatically worsens we might never know if she’s telling the truth.
For everyone else, the matter of Claudia seems a little less fraught. In time she may have become a celebrity anyway; her biography tipped her toward fame even before she’d accumulated over a million followers on TikTok. But once again, she’s a child, and one who’s posting from inside a tense and divided household. But there isn’t always much empathy apparent in the way that the Twitter-addled respond to her stories. Nearly everything she posts generates a headline now — the New York Post has a running series dedicated to her ideological war on her parents. On Twitter, well-meaning people praise her for her bravery and repeat slogans about the power of teen girls.
Teen girls are fine. I used to be one, in the antediluvian times before TikTok, and accomplished nothing of note. But the liberal tendency to slot this particular teen girl into a pattern of hero-seeking behavior does no one any favors. This is the “one cool trick” approach to Trump, which hopes that one person or gesture can bring down the debaser-in-chief. Its hallmark is desperation, and a tendency toward empty gestures. (Remember the safety pins? The Drumpf hats? All that RBG apparel?) But a savior isn’t coming. It wasn’t Comey or Mueller; it won’t be Claudia Conway, even if she did drive her mother out of the Trump administration. It won’t even be Joe Biden. The times require a real political movement, preferably the kind that isn’t so easily commodified.
As for Claudia herself, the real villains are her parents — yes, both of them. George is a rare species, a Republican with the common sense to abhor Donald Trump. But that’s a low bar to clear, and the celebrity he revels in helped push his own daughter into the spotlight. It’s not hard to understand why a teenage girl who disagrees with her famous parents might feel obligated to distance herself as publicly as possible. Journalists will still have to approach her with care, evaluating her claims as she makes them. Everyone else should back off, and grow up. This still isn’t Harry Potter. Our salvation does not rest on a plucky YA heroine. That’s your job, and it’s going to take years.