President Donald Trump is facing a revolt from his base for having signed the bloated omnibus spending bill that torpedoes his “drain the swamp” pledges. But the president now has an opportunity to achieve a small measure of redemption: he should offer loud and unequivocal support to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is being hammered for reportedly having rejected identity politics in favor of meritocracy.
Zinke is facing a storm of media criticism from liberals for allegedly saying that diversity is “not important,” though his office denies that he said this. The same sources that reported Zinke’s comments say that he followed up by stating that what he cared about was excellence—and that by hiring the best people, he would in fact put together the most diverse group anyone has ever had. This second statement is a cowardly concession (as is his denial of his initial diversity observation, assuming that he made that initial statement). Sometimes meritocracy will yield diversity; sometimes it won’t. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Diversity should not be an end in itself; excellence is the goal.
Rejecting the primacy of diversity constitutes a head-on assault on the received wisdom of Washington and elite American culture. Gender and racial quotas have been the order of business for the last three decades. The #MeToo movement has only intensified pressures on public and private organizations to hire based on sex and skin color. The result: wasted resources, the sidelining of merit, and ever more virulent and irrational identity politics. The rule of the diversity regime is that you’re required to be fanatically obsessed with race and gender until you aren’t—because at that unpredictable moment, whenever it comes, noticing race and sex becomes racist and sexist.
What’s fantastic about the Zinke story, which appears to be gaining momentum, is that the Interior Secretary is being condemned for allegedly saying that he discounts racial categories in hiring, and prefers “having the right person for the right job.” This position, uncontroversial for decades, was the essence of Martin Luther King’s vision of a colorblind, merit-based society. Treating people the same way regardless of their race or sex used to be considered the definition of fairness; now it is understood to be vicious and intolerable. Kristen Clarke, president of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, writes of Zinke, “the racist views harbored by members of this administration and their failure to ensure diversity must be condemned.”
The most distinctive moment during the 2016 presidential campaign was Trump’s insistence that he did not have time for political correctness, in response to then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s feminist naggings. Here is a moment for the president to make good on that pledge by rejecting the relevance of race and gender to any job within his administration. As for Zinke, even if he didn’t reject diversity explicitly, he ought to do so now.
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