You’re hired. That’s what President-elect Donald Trump has been telling the select group of individuals whom he has chosen for his Cabinet. On Thursday he named Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, to lead the Department of the Interior. “America is the most beautiful country in the world and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands,” Trump said in a statement. Now, with only the slots for secretary of agriculture and veteran’s affairs still open, it seems highly unlikely that any Latinos will have a spot in Trump’s Cabinet.
In some ways, this hardly seems surprising; Trump’s Cabinet is the whitest since George H.W. Bush’s. And yet, this omission seems particularly glaring given that Trump is beginning his administration after a campaign that established a singularly antagonistic relationship with America’s largest minority group. There is certainly no lack of qualified Latino candidates for high-profile leadership roles. By not including Latinos in his inner circle of advisers, Trump is sending the message that he does not value the talents and concerns of our community. There are 55 million Latinos in the US, and Trump can’t find even one for a high-level role?
Latinos have been serving in presidential cabinets for over 25 years, since Ronald Reagan picked Lauro Cavazos, a Democrat, for secretary of education in 1988. Bill Clinton named Aida Alvarez head of the Small Business Administration in 1997, making her the first Latina in a Cabinet-level role. Along with what is considered the most inclusive administration in history, Obama has had the most Latinos in his Cabinet, including Hilda Solis (secretary of Labor), Tom Perez (Labor), Ken Salazar (Interior), Julian Castro (Housing and Urban Development), and John King (Education). This history shows that Latinos are available and qualified to serve in high-level leadership positions.
According to Trump spokesman Jason Miller, the President-elect’s team “will be very broad and diverse, both with the Cabinet and the administration.” Indeed, Trump has tapped Elaine Chao, who is Asian-American, for secretary of transportation, and named South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent, as ambassador to the United Nations. But picks like these only make it more obvious that Trump is overlooking Latinos — who comprise 17% of the population — for his Cabinet.
The dearth of Latinos in the Trump Cabinet is particularly noteworthy when Trump seems to be waiving many of the traditional requirements for such jobs. Ben Carson will be running HUD, despite his lack of experience in housing and urban development. Haley has no relevant diplomatic or foreign policy credentials. Rick Perry will be running the Department of Energy, which the former Texas governor and “Dancing with the Stars” contestant once vowed to eliminate while running for president himself. Our likely new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is a man who, as head of Exxon, reportedly acted against American interests. With such unconventional hires, the lack of Latinos in Trump’s Cabinet seems less an oversight than a conscious decision.
The absence of Latinos at the table in the new administration is a loss for the country, especially considering that Trump ran on a platform that emphasized the immigration issue. There will likely be no reasonable conservative Latino voices, such as Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, to counter-balance the views of immigration hardliners like Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general.
What Trump is showing America — once again — is that he does not hold Latinos in high regard. Remember, he began his candidacy with assertions that Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and drug dealers, and finished it with unsubstantiated claims that “millions” of people, presumably undocumented immigrants, illegally voted. Along the way, Trump disparaged a distinguished federal judge because of his Mexican-American heritage (comments that speaker of the House Paul Ryan termed “the textbook definition” of racism) and told news anchor Jorge Ramos to “Go back to Univision.”
Trump’s apparent disinterest in the potential contributions of Latinos is perhaps predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
True, Trump won this election and has the right to a Cabinet of his choosing. Yet his picks so far play into the narrative that he is biased against Latinos. Consider that in his victory speech, Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans. If his most visible hires are not inclusive of Latinos, it’s hard to imagine that the thousands of other roles in his administration will be.
And if Trump is having trouble finding Latinos willing to serve in his administration, for fear of being labeled an “Uncle Juan” or a vendido (sellout), he has only himself to blame. His rhetoric has made his persona, brand, and administration toxic to many Latinos. An Associated Press review of the Trump Organization found few Latinos or other minorities in senior leadership roles. Trump refers to Latinos as “The Hispanics” and his idea of Latino outreach during the presidential race was tweeting a picture of himself eating something called a “taco bowl.”
As a candidate for president, Trump promised to surround himself with “the best people.” As president-elect, he is demonstrating that — in his mind at least — this category does not include Latinos.