While President Trump has faced unwilting criticism since even before he set foot in the White House, considerably less attention has been paid to the daily barrage of abuse directed at those who comprise his cabinet. Take the recent case of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Born in Bozeman, Montana, Zinke’s story is an impressive one. Raised in nearby Whitefish, he would excel as an Eagle Scout and talented athlete before going on to play football at the University of Oregon. Later, he served as a heavily decorated U.S. Navy Seal while seeing action in Kosovo and Iraq.
Zinke has never been shy in touting his conservative credentials either, once referring to Hillary Clinton as the “Anti-Christ,” consistently standing against abortion and opposing radical environmentalism, especially as it relates to the theory that human activity is the leading cause of global warming. Naturally then, he has been a lightning rod for criticism from anti-Trump activists since heading up the Interior Department.
Notably, on his first day in office, he rescinded an order which banned the use of lead bullets in national wildlife refuges. Zinke has also been criticized surrounding his use of chartered planes at taxpayer expense, despite spending considerably less than his two Obama-era predecessors. Through it all, his experience has not been conducive to the entrenched mindset of the Washington beltway.
Recently, Zinke again roiled the ruling class by allegedly having the audacity to come out in support of merit-based hiring. It seems that some cannot handle the idea of hiring the best person for the job, race and gender notwithstanding. In fact, many have called Zinke openly racist, despite his claim that he never made the statement attributed to him.
Whatever Zinke may have said, Trump opponents have jumped on the remark to score political points. Meanwhile they have conveniently ignored the fact that Zinke has appointed the first female to head the Bureau of Reclamation, picked a Hispanic as Secretary of Insular Affairs and chosen a Native American assistant secretary as well. Yet none of this seems to satisfy those who look at life through a racial and gender prism. Thus, the question remains, why not hire the most qualified person for the position, regardless of race or other minority designation?
For instance, consider the issue of air travel. When choosing an airline, does one consider the race or sex of a flight’s pilot prior to the purchase of a ticket? Or, is it more likely that the strongest consideration is given to the cost, dependability and safety record of the airline in question? In fact, would any rational airline passenger demand that a minority pilot be assigned to their specific flight if that person’s level of expertise was less than that of a more experienced non-minority individual?
Or take the issue of health. When one examines the factors surrounding a delicate medical procedure, do they demand a female surgeon of color to perform it? And what about the make-up of the surgical team? If a team of experienced medical professionals is considered the best, yet not diverse enough, does a patient go elsewhere in protest?
Then there is reality of professional sports. Between 70 and 75 percent of NBA and NFL rosters are made up of black players. And although an untold numbers of white players may believe they too can play at a professional level, the fact is that general managers build their teams by seeking out those with the best skills available. It matters not what color they are or whether they are diverse enough.
The bottom line is, teams want players who will most likely help them win. In this particular instance, neither white fans nor white player hopefuls complain that professional teams aren’t white enough. They know that winning rules the day and that the best talent achieves success.
A further look at what Zinke reportedly said about diversity was less widely reported, but worth noting: “What’s important is having the right person for the right job. I care about excellence, and I’m going to get the best people; and you’ll find we have the most diverse group anyone’s ever had.”
Sadly, Zinke now denies he ever made a comment that, if said, was quite sensible and should be stated more often.
Regardless what the truth is, the fact is that in today’s America, even baseless allegations of racism and sexism continue to prevent us from achieving untold benefits across society. And although we continue to confront real instances of discrimination, we are light years away from Martin Luther King’s vision of a nation where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Reality tells us that decades of political correctness keep getting in the way. Just ask Ryan Zinke.
Mark Figley is a political activist and guest columnist from Elida. Reach him a firstname.lastname@example.org