Donald Trump’s presidential administration will not have a Latinx in the cabinet for the first time since 1988 – an exclusion that has been the subject of much hand wringing in the press and amongst prominent Latinx leaders. But this administration, fueled on an empowered white nationalist movement, is operating beyond the reach of our demands for institutional diversity. And far from a setback – as the dominant media narrative suggests – this rejection could finally lay bare the seductive mirage of U.S. politics, one that is powered by the interplay between exceptionalism and exclusion. That is, if only our Latinx political leaders were not fastening it to the sky through sheer force of will.
We have been sold inclusion into this American project. But while the fight for representation is important, it can also create a shroud that obscures worsening inequality, growing education gaps, the deportation of millions, torture, bombing, occupation at home and abroad, the dissolution of social safety nets, and more. This same shroud enables the whiteness of the publishing industry, academia, the media, the arts and entertainment industries, and almost every other major institution in America. As critical race theorist Professor David Theo Goldberg has explored, the left’s uncritical celebration of multiculturalism paints representation as a social justice victory in and of itself, even as it effectively leaves neoliberalism in tact.
We have been sold inclusion into this American project.
We need only look at the coverage of Trump’s cabinet choices to see that uncritical demands for representation by counting is still the norm. For publications, this is an opportunity to perform outrage, a gotcha moment supported by a tangle of quotes from Latinx leaders. Despite press secretary Sean Spicer’s assertion of the overall “diversity” of Trump’s administration, some are legitimately concerned that no Latinx is counted among Trump’s “best and brightest.” Not being chosen, by the most outwardly xenophobic and racist president in recent memory, is a slight on our people. My hope is that, finally, we can take Trump at his word.
However, Latinx political leaders could not resist the opportunity to demand incorporation into this white nationalist state. Mario Lopez, of Hispanic Leadership Fund, calls the lack of Latinx appointees a “missed opportunity,” asserting that there are plenty of qualified Latinxs with the “principles and commitment” to serve Trump’s violent project. When Antonio Vargas calls it a “disaster and setback for our country,” we might hope he refers to Trump’s intentions to immediately repeal DACA, to make healthcare inaccessible for thousands, to the growing racist, xenophobic, and anti-LGBT atmosphere in this country, to the continued destruction of the environment which affects the world’s poor most acutely, and other catastrophes we will inaugurate today. But I fear Vargas means it’s a “disaster and setback” that a Latinx cannot participate in this expanding violence.
The Trump administration might finally make uncritical patriotism on the part of Latinxs untenable.
After all, what kind of Latinx would take a cabinet position (and wouldn’t tell Trump que se vaya pal carajo)? Is it really someone the kids could look up to, as Ana Navarro claims? The Trump administration might finally make uncritical patriotism on the part of Latinxs untenable, and I argue that we should embrace this rather than demand a multicultural white nationalism. What if we don’t rush to accept the narrative of exceptionalism for a small few and remember those whose suffering might be erased by the image of a brown legislator shaking hands with Donald Trump? Many of our youth will soon experience the costs of this new government’s policy, and they should not be offered the empty calories of admiration or inspiration in this regime.
Other scholars, such as Professor Louis Caldera, have expressed hope for a Latinx appointee as a gesture toward fence-mending. But it shouldn’t surprise us that broken fences make way for walls. Caldera insists that a Latinx cabinet appointment would “signal that they [Trump’s administration] value the nation’s diversity,” and this would go a long way to bringing this country together. Are we really that easy? Is our memory so poor, our desire for a pat on the head so urgent, that we are willing to kiss-and-make-up for the price of seeing someone with a last name that ends in “-ez” get the Trump seal of approval?
The signaling of representation has been integral to the ruse of progress in the U.S.
Since the new president has established Latinxs as a primary antagonist – through policy as well as rhetoric – the desire for inclusion and “unity” indicates a disconnect between political leaders and our community. The signaling of representation has been integral to the ruse of progress in the U.S. This white supremacy fueled by multicultural bodies obfuscates the ongoing and mundane violences that structure the lives of most people of color. It leverages representation and narratives of empowerment as “gestures of seduction, invitation, and inclusion.” As we usher in new degrees of carcerality, social service reduction, and de-humanization, an investment in an American politics that accepts the sacrifice of many for the visibility of the few finds our leaders more ardently propelled by the tenets of post-raciality and multiculturalism. But as Edward Lujan points out, “there are still 4,000 [cabinet] positions that have to be filled,” and some of our leaders are hoping to be part of history.