Donald Trump takes office today as president of the United States with the least diverse presidential Cabinet in decades, and the first Cabinet without a Latino member since President Ronald Reagan appointed the first Latino nearly 30 years ago.
For the 15 core Cabinet posts, Trump selected 13 men and two women. There is one Black man, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, nominated to be housing secretary; and one Asian woman, Elaine Chao, picked to be secretary of transportation. The other woman is Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos.
At least one Latino has served in every Cabinet since Reagan appointed Texas Democrat Lauro Cavazos to be secretary of education in 1988, making him the first Hispanic member to serve in a U.S. presidential Cabinet.
According to a Roll Call analysis, racial/ethnic minorities make up 13 percent of Trump’s Cabinet. In comparison, minorities made up 40 percent of Barack Obama’s first Cabinet, 33 percent of George W. Bush’s first Cabinet and 43 percent of Bill Clinton’s.
Carson, as the lone Black member, represents 6.6 percent of Trump’s Cabinet. African Americans represent more than 13 percent of the U.S. population. And while more than 50 percent of Americans are women, their representation in this Cabinet is just a fourth of that number. Latinos, the largest and fastest-growing minority group, make up 17 percent of the U.S. population and have zero representation in Trump’s Cabinet.
Lone Black Cabinet pick Ben Carson and one of only two women chosen also have negative attitudes toward gay rights.
“I never thought I would see this day again,” said Henry Cisneros, housing secretary under President Clinton, in an interview with The Associated Press. “There are multiple, multiple talented people, from heads of corporations to superintendents, he could have selected. There really is no excuse.”
Political analyst David Gergen, who served four presidents (Democrat and Republican) and is a professor of public service at the Harvard Kennedy School, on CNN Thursday night pointed out the business case for diversity which DiversityInc data has proven time and again: more diversity in management makes companies and organizations more successful.
“There’s a fair amount of social science research now that shows if a company is more diverse, if there are more women on the board, if there are more women in the company, if there are more minorities, the company actually performs better,” Gergen said.
In fact, the DiversityInc Top 50 stock index compiled by CNBC outperforms the S&P 500 index in the long term.
A global study titled “Is Gender Diversity Profitable” conducted by The Peterson Institute for International Economics in conjunction with EY (No. 3 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity) last year concluded that a company with even just 30 percent women leaders can contribute an additional 6 percentage points toward its net margin.
“What helps to make you best and brightest is if you have more diversity,” Gergen added. “And to reject that is to say I don’t care much about that. I just care about putting in place people who look like me.”
Political observers expected Trump to choose a Latino to lead the Department of Agriculture, but this week he named former Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue to the post. Perdue, like the rest of the men in Trump has selected, is an older, wealthy white man.
“Mr. Trump’s decision to exclude Hispanics from serving in his Cabinet is inexcusable and deeply damaging to our representative democracy. The President-elect has dangerously signaled that the people who advise the president do not need to represent all of America,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday. “His decision erodes the forward progress made by every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan, to seek out bright and qualified Hispanics to serve our nation as Cabinet members.”
Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, an umbrella group of 40 advocacy organizations, told The Dallas Morning News Trump’s action “is anti-democratic.”
“Trump has not only been the most anti-Latino, anti-immigrant president in the history of the nation, [but] by not including Latinos in his Cabinet, he is just showing how he plans to govern,” Sanchez said.
In a recorded phone interview with Newsday’s editorial board last April, Trump was asked specifically, “Would your cabinet look like America Will there be women in there, Blacks and Hispanics”
Trump’s response: “Oh absolutely. It’s so important.” Trump added that his administration “will be made up of every, all groups from this country and that would be women. It would be African Americans. It would be Hispanics. It would be, I mean that’s so vital to have that. I think it’s absolutely. Now at the same time it would be the most competent people. We need the most competent people, but they’ll be the most competent people from those groups, absolutely. It’ll be made up of everybody.”
Incoming press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday pushed back against criticism over the lack of diversity, saying critics should “look at the totality of the administration [and] see a president who is committed to uniting this country and bringing the best and the brightest together.”
“It’s not just about skin color or ethnic heritage,” he told reporters. “I think you can start to pick out one group and say, ‘Where’s the percentage of that’ but when you look at the totality of the diversity that he’s bringing in, I would say that it’s something that you could hold up second to none. Both in terms of gender and background, race, ideology. He continues to put together an amazingly diverse cabinet.”
Spicer, who earlier told the Dallas Morning News, “I don’t have any concern about diversity,” said, “The number one thing that Americans should focus on is, is [Trump] hiring the best and the brightest”
While Spicer is correct that diversity is not just about skin color or ethnic heritage, it is also based on diversity of thought and tolerance for people of diverse backgrounds and inclusion of those people. Carson, who is Black, has said he does not believe marriage equality is a civil right, believes being gay is a choice and has compared same-gender marriage to bestiality.
Betsy DeVos, meanwhile, also has an anti-LGBT record and openly supports the use of conversion therapy to “cure” being gay. During her confirmation hearing DeVos also could not commit to saying that schools receiving government funding should be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act.
Furthermore, critics have questioned whether most of Trump’s Cabinet picks are even “the best and the brightest.” With regard to just Carson and DeVos, Carson, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has no experience with housing and urban development, and DeVos, who will run the Department of Education, has never attended public school, nor have any of her children.
“Instead of assembling a talented and diverse Cabinet that would help advance the interests of all Americans, Trump has broken with the bipartisan precedent of past presidential administrations and has missed a major opportunity to shed the racial and ethnic divisiveness that were hallmarks of his presidential campaign,” said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
“This is not about political correctness. It is about representative democracy,” said Janet Murgua, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, on Thursday. Added Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), “This is a disaster and setback for the country.”