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An American Government that Doesn’t Look Like America

January 4, 2017

The whole point of representative democracy is that voters are governed by people who represent them. To represent voters – to speak for them effectively – government officials must know, or at least care, what voters think. Historically, American democracy has done a poor job of representing voters who are not white men; what dismays me is the extent to which that underrepresentation continues today.

As of yesterday, President-Elect Donald Trump has made 27 top-level nominations, 18 of which require Senate confirmation and nine of which do not. Twenty-one of Trump’s 27 nominees are white men (78 percent). Of those who require Senate confirmation, 13 are white men (72 percent).

These 13 white men (plus one African-American man, two white women, and two Asian-American women) will go before a United States Senate that is only slightly more diverse than Trump’s nominee list. This year’s Senate is made up of 79 men and 21 women, and that dismal showing actually reflects a record number of female Senators – up from 20 in the last two Senates. Of the 79 men, 74 are white men.

The American population is just under half male; non-Hispanic white males account for less than a third of the population.

In general, Democrats care about diversity and Republicans do not. Democrats campaign on diversity; Republicans do not – on the contrary, in the 2016 election concern for diversity, for representation of the full scope of the American population, was trivialized and dismissed as “political correctness.” In other words, from the point of view that prevails in today’s Republican Party, concern for diversity is not only unimportant, it is wrong.

So it’s not surprising that Democrats in the Senate are notably more diverse than Republicans. Of 48 Democratic senators (counting Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who contend that they are Independents), 30 are white men (63 percent) – which looks pretty bad until you realize that 44 of the 52 Republican senators are white men (85 percent). Sixteen of 21 female senators are Democrats; just five are Republicans.

This year’s Senate boasts not just a record number of female senators, but also a record number of senators from minority groups. Unfortunately, the record is just nine senators – two African-American, four Hispanic, two Asian-American, and one senator who is both African-American and Asian-American.

Although Trump has three cabinet nominations yet to make, as of now Trump stands to be the first incoming president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to include no Latinos among his cabinet picks.


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