Representation matters. It's almost always clear if an organization is hiring enough people of color or isn’t helping them ascend to leadership roles.
Representation is important in sectors of government, especially where the president has power to appoint many of the people within them. The composition of a president’s appointments reveal whose voices are being heard. The U.S. president has the power to select whose advice he pays attention to when it comes to his judges, cabinet members and, of course, the staff of his White House.
President Donald Trump likes to say he has helped minorities and women through things like reducing the black unemployment rate and hiring women through the Trump Organization. His daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, seems to support this in her public statements. This, however, has been contradicted by his statements and actions over the years. Despite his history, what do his appointments say?
According to an analysis by NPR, which has been updated with each new Trump appointment, Trump’s choices are less diverse than his predecessors. Former President Barack Obama had the lowest amount of white men as appointments so far at 36 percent. Trump raised that to 71 percent, and his appointments are just 19 percent nonwhite and 19 percent women. This represents a significant step backward. How can the concerns of all Americans be heard when a cabinet skews toward one demographic?
Some might say it’s unfair to compare Trump to the previous democratic administration. However, the overall trend — Democrat or Republican — is toward more inclusive appointments. Among recent presidents, Trump is only surpassed by former President Ronald Reagan in his appointments of white men. The most recent former President George Bush’s cabinet was 59 percent white men.
Often those who oppose affirmative action will say it’s more important to have someone who is qualified in the position as opposed to focusing on a racial balance. This is a false equivalence: You can have both.
Some of Trump’s appointments have been questionable, with many not having experience relevant to their position. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon known for separating conjoined twins and who recently allegedly fired a staffer for not approving outlandish expenses to decorate his office, may not be the most qualified person to serve as the secretary of his department. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who served as a deputy secretary of transportation and a secretary of labor, shows how someone who is both qualified and not a white man can be chosen.
Other leaders have taken an active role in making sure their advisors are representative of the population. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet was the first Canadian cabinet to have an equal amount of men and women and included a refugee and two aboriginal members.
Trump’s leadership style is revealed not just in his press secretary’s statements and his tweets, but also in who he chooses to represent him. There are few women and minorities whispering to the president’s ear, and this may end up having policy consequences down the road. Instead of bragging about how he’s improved things for minorities, Trump should instead think about how he can ask them what he can improve — but that requires having a more representative inner circle. Trump’s current cabinet does not represent America as a whole.
Nicole Dan is a UF political science and journalism junior. Her column focuses on race and culture.