Will Donald Trump be the first president since Ronald Reagan to appoint no Hispanics to his cabinet? Lists of candidates under consideration include not a single Spanish surname.
Let’s review some of the history:
Only 15 Hispanic Americans have ever served in the cabinet as secretary of one of the 15 executive departments in the federal government (agencies whose leaders are in the presidential line of succession) or in a role with cabinet rank, including only three women. And these 15 Hispanics have led only eight of the 15 executive departments, with no Hispanic ever having served as secretary of defense, state or treasury.
In 1988, toward the end of his second term, President Ronald Reagan, to his credit, appointed the first Hispanic to ever serve in the cabinet. He selected Lauro Cavazos, a Democrat and the president of Texas Tech University, as secretary of education. (In 1979, Jimmy Carter appointed Edward Hidalgo to be secretary of the Navy. Hidalgo became the first Hispanic to ever serve as a service secretary; however, service secretaries work under the secretary of defense and are not members of the cabinet.)
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Thus, beginning in Reagan’s second term, every president has taken pains to appoint a cabinet that reflects the growing diversity of the United States, including its now more than 56 million Latinos, who make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population.
In 1989, newly elected President George H.W. Bush retained Cavazos as education secretary and appointed Manuel Lujan, a Congressman from New Mexico, to be secretary of the interior, beginning the modern precedent of naming at least two Hispanic cabinet members.
Fifteen cabinet appointees in 240 years. It’s hard to believe, given that Hispanics have been part of this nation since before it was founded.
But even as recently as 1980, when Hispanics were 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, diversity was not yet much prized in the top echelons of U.S. civic and business life. Hispanics are the largest minority group in America today, but they are still largely missing from America’s leadership ranks.
So Donald Trump has a tremendous opportunity to make history.
Trump can be the first president in more than a quarter century to fail to appoint any Hispanics to his cabinet.
Or he can make history by appointing at least one Hispanic to a cabinet position in which no Hispanic has ever served.
Ideally he would name to the cabinet someone who has credibility leading the department he or she is charged with leading and credibility as a leader in the Hispanic community.
Someone who, in addition to running a federal agency, can become a trusted adviser to the president and his staff on matters of particular importance to the Hispanic community, including education, jobs and entrepreneurship, the environment, immigration, and working constructively with our neighbors in the Americas.
Assembling a cabinet that reflects the make-up of America is one way modern presidents signal that they value the nation’s diversity and see talent, ability and desire to contribute and to serve in people from all corners of the country and places of origin, and of all colors, races, religions, and other backgrounds, including LGBT and people with disabilities.
Rather than divide, it helps bring a diverse country together as one.
Many Hispanics, myself included, question whether Trump sees the Hispanic community that way: as brimming with talent and from whose ranks many future American leaders must come. If he does, he will appoint many Hispanics to senior roles in his administration.
Trump at this point has many more fences to mend with a number of American communities than most presidents usually do.
Who he picks for his cabinet is one place for the fence-mending to begin. Or his choices can offer further evidence of an indifference, or worse, toward the Hispanic community that many Hispanics already fear.
The choice is his.
Louis Caldera is a professor of leadership and a senior fellow at The George Washington University.
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