I knew it was always going to be this way, but recently it has struck me just how LOL President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to “diversify” his administration have become. In the past two weeks, Biden has done a great job of courting media attention and general praise for his cabinet nominations and White House staff picks, many of them women and several people of color, and some from working-class backgrounds.
This list of candidates are extensive, but a few people among them are:
- Alejandro Mayorkas, potentially the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security
- Avril Haines, potentially the first female director of National Intelligence
- Neera Tanden, potentially the first female and first South Asian American director of the Office of Management and Budget
- Adewale Adeyemo, potentially the first Black deputy Treasury secretary (and also an immigrant)
We are slowly watching the “hire more women guards” meme play out in real life, holding our breath as Biden announces picks that are supposed to, I don’t know, reflect a more diverse America, or a country that is not as white and is not as male as previous presidential cabinets have reflected.
Congratulations to these people and more who are likely to be confirmed (though, for Tanden, who’s to say). This has become the narrative around Biden’s nominations — that it’s impressive that he’s looking outside the typical circle of Good Ol’ Boys to select people who, as a direct result of their gender or their ethnicity or race, would have been explicitly excluded from previous positions. It’s good, we’re told, because it shows that the U.S. believes in and actively promotes the equality of women and people of color and immigrants. These candidates are blazing trails and illustrating that you can come from the most marginalized of backgrounds and still eventually one day be invited into the upper echelons of government and power.
It is a nice sentiment, if you completely disregard the actual positions and job responsibilities and histories of these people. If you forget for a moment that Mayorkas was instrumental in reforming efforts at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to go after immigration fraud, which became a top priority under the Trump administration, and that he’s now in charge of the deportation machine, and will now reflect the racial or ethnic identities of the people he’s deporting. You can clearly admire how inspiring Tanden will be in her role, and all the glass ceilings she’ll have broken for many little girls, if you can forget about her history of union-busting and supporting Social Security and Medicare cuts, general anti-progressivism and Twitter feuds aside. We’re supposed to applaud Haines, who has worked for one of the worst Silicon Valley data-mining firms, potentially making history as the first women to be in charge of nationwide racist policing and surveillance, and cheer on the potential for a female defense secretary (according to The New York Times!) because it would also be great if women were architecting our wars, too.
Nothing sums up the cognitive dissonance of this moment more than the gap between the words in the top and bottom halves of this New York Times tweet:
That’s right! You can take pride in Adeyemo and Treasury secretary-pick Janet Yellen being a potential “history-making duo,” with Yellen poised to become first woman in the position, if you disregard Adeyemo’s work at global investment firm BlackRock. Fun!
This is actually the future that liberals want, which is yet another meme that we’re horribly executing, and I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to see through the guise of Biden’s seemingly-inspiring actions.
I assume this might be because we’re not dealing with a Republican administration that tokenizes identity just a hair more transparently than Democrats, like with Trump’s nomination of, lol, war criminal Gina Haspel as the first woman to run the CIA, or all of his lying-yet-female press secretaries. Jesus, just yesterday mainstream publications were lauding Biden for his all-female press team, but this has also been the case for many press teams in the Trump administration. Which is also not something worth lauding, because, again, these people have actively lied to advance their interests, but if this isn’t a perfect example of how diversity is weaponized within powerful systems, I don’t know what is. At least Sarah Sanders got to call people sexist when she was called a liar, I guess.
Really, how is diversity so pivotal if the people in these positions are designed to help lie for an administration, further an administration’s power, or advance American empire in other countries? These roles themselves will not materially change if only the background of the people who fill them change. People will continue to be hounded by ICE and detained in jails and deported and spied on, and lose social benefits and, in other countries, have their communities occupied by U.S. military and be killed by drone strikes. Even with people who look like me, or who come from my ethnic or socioeconomic background, in these roles, the machine marches on.