Trump’s Cabinet a new take on diversity
Adviser: Ability, not color, is key
A top adviser to Donald Trump on diversity issues is offering no apologies for the preponderance of white men filling the Cabinet and key jobs in the new administration, insisting that the lack of minorities reflected the president-elect’s color-blind approach to hiring decisions.
Bruce Levell, who spearheaded a minority outreach effort for the Trump campaign and now serves as an adviser to the transition team, said that Mr. Trump isn’t looking to check off diversity boxes with his hiring decisions — and that’s OK with black and Hispanic Americans.
“President-elect Trump doesn’t really so much look at the Cabinet and say, ‘Hey, I need a black guy over here and I need a woman over there,’” said Mr.
Levell, executive director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. “He fights very hard to put the best individual that’s qualified who can run the agency for his administration. Most people of color are OK with the fact that, ‘Hey, if this person is qualified and can do the job, then God bless him.’ ”
As for his own organization, Mr. Levell added, “We’re not so hung up on how many black appointees there are going to be or how many Hispanic appointees there’s going to be. We generally want the best qualified.”
Still, Mr. Trump has come under fire for filling his Cabinet with white men — and very rich white men at that.
Democratic strategist David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Obama, poked fun at the lack of diversity in a tweet: “So far, give @realDonaldTrump credit for assembling a diverse Cabinet, mixing billionaires with just plain multi-millionaires.”
Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, said that the qualifications and the character of those selected by Mr. Trump were not the issue.
“There are many white men who are extremely savvy and sensitive and understanding of diversity. There is no question about that,” he said in a recent “News Hour” interview on PBS. “The question is, do people feel their voices are heard? That’s really important, that communities feel someone is at the table with my point of view.”
Of 18 Cabinet-level picks so far, Mr. Trump has selected 13 white men, two women of Asian descent and one white woman. The only black nominee so far is retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson, tapped to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The most prominent agencies and departments are all set to be run by white men: ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis for defense secretary, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general and billionaire investor Steven Mnuchin to run the Treasury Department.
The president-elect also has selected seven White House senior advisers, with all but one — Kellyanne Conway as presidential counselor — being white men.
Mr. Trump has not nominated a Hispanic, with just two official Cabinet posts — agriculture and veterans affairs — left to fill. By comparison, President Obama’s first Cabinet included 20 positions occupied by eight white men, three white women, three Asian men, two black men, two black women, one Hispanic man and one Hispanic woman.
Mr. Levell said that Mr. Trump is including minorities in other ways. He noted the recent meeting with NFL greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis about issues facing black communities.
Mr. Brown is a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and eight-time NFL rushing leader. Since retiring from the NFL, he has worked to help black communities. He came out of the meeting at Trump Tower singing praise of the next president.
“I fell in love with him, because he really talks about helping African-Americans, black people, and that’s why I’m here,” Mr. Brown said on CNN.
He also said that he wasn’t hung up on racial balance, instead focusing on common humanity.
“The three greatest people in my life were white, OK,” he said. “My high school coach, my high school superintendent and my mentor in Manhasset, Long Island.”
Mr. Level attended the meeting with Mr. Brown and Mr. Lewis, as did National Diversity Coalition CEO Pastor Darrell Scott.
“It’s not a smoke and mirrors — that’s for sure,” said Mr. Levell. “During the campaign, for Donald Trump to call out, ‘What do you have to lose?’ — there’s just no way he’s not going to put a tremendous amount of emphasis on that particular area.”
He was referring to Mr. Trump’s appeal to black voters during the campaign, arguing that he should be given a chance in the White House because blacks and other minorities had little to show for the decades of loyal voting for Democratic candidates.
The president-elect’s critics, Mr. Levell said, would not be satisfied regardless of how many black or Hispanic men and women were nominated for top jobs.
“If we had five black appointees, they’d be upset that we don’t have seven or nine or 10,” he said. “So I think, at the end of the day, it’s not a situation of trying to fulfill the media’s desire to have to fill these agencies with X amount of blacks, X amount of Hispanics. He’s truly staying on course to find those with the best ability who have an open mind and heart for all cultures that want to serve.”
Kellyanne Conway is the only woman among Donald Trump’s senior advisers. The president-elect is facing criticism for his mostly white Cabinet picks.