The new 116th congress will be the most diverse in American history. And it includes several firsts. Let’s start on the Democratic side. According to a compilation by the Washington Post, they will now feature more women than ever: 89. The Democratic caucus includes 90 white men, 55 non-white men, 48 white women, and 41 women of color. Those 90 white men just became 91 as nearby California district 21 just flipped to the Democrat, the last race to be decided.
It also includes the first two Muslim women. LGBT Americans also had a few firsts. Several new members won’t be the first from their demographic in the country, but the first their state has ever had, such as the first Latina from Texas and the first black woman from Massachusetts.
Interestingly, of the women elected this year, a majority are former girl scouts, a vote of confidence in the leadership development efforts of that program. All three female Secretaries of State, from both major parties, are former girl scouts.
The contrast between the parties though, could not be more stark. While the proportion of white men in the Democratic caucus appears to be de- clining slightly to about 38 percent, getting a bit closer to their proportion in the American population, the Republican caucus will actually be less diverse than in recent memory, 90 percent white and male.
There is a question confronting Americans of all parties. We are a diverse nation, whether people like it or not. Should our national representatives reflect that diversity? Should the people who lead us come close to the demographics of the population they are supposed to speak for? No group recruits candidates--or should--solely or primarily on that basis, but it appears that one party is edging closer to national diversity while the other is moving the other direction.
Consciously or not, there is a perspective in this country that leadership naturally falls to white, heterosexual, Christian men, with all others in a subordinate position. Some people feel more comfortable with things that way and it has been that way for most of our history. Even the newly diverse Democrats haven’t kept up with the diversity of the nation, but they’re closer than their colleagues.
Mia Love, a Republican, African American congresswoman from Utah who just lost her seat tells her Republican colleagues, “…we need to let people know we care…they need to like Republicans.” It isn’t just about policy, Love said (though this disparity partly is), but the fact that “Democrats make them (minorities and women) feel like they have a home” and Republicans don’t.
How would women feel they have a home in a party of almost all men in which the leader brags about sexual assault? How would minorities feel at home voting for a party that includes the likes of Steve King and ran several neo-nazis this cycle? Republicans across the country keep making racist comments with hardly a peep from party leaders.
How would Muslims feel at home in a party whose leader wants to ban them from traveling to this country? How would Jews vote for a party that includes Sebastian Gorka? Should LGBT people vote for the party that includes Mike Pence, who promotes conversion therapy?
Some people see no problem, thinking that the Democrats are just becoming the party of women and minorities and Republicans the one of white men. There are two problems with this perception. First, Democrats aren’t the party of women and minorities. They are a diverse party in which white men aren’t just included, they’re still somewhat overrepresented as compared to their proportion in the population.
The other problem is that such a situation will never lead to diverse representation, at least as long as Republicans remain a major party. You cannot build a diverse national party primarily on one demographic, particularly one that is declining as a proportion of the nation. The only way this works is if we consider white, heterosexual Christian male overrepresentation a permanent and natural feature of our political structure. That isn’t the nation I want. Is it yours? --For those still watching the local nailbiter election in the Porterville City Council District One, be aware that it didn’t have to be this way. There were three candidates and if the city used instant runoff voting--sometimes called ranked choice voting--the results might well have been different.