Trump’s Presidency is A Celebration of White Male Mediocrity

Donald Trump’s administration is many things. It’s divisive, authoritarian, inexperienced. It’s also incredibly white, and incredibly male. Trump’s cabinet is 87% white and 87% male; his wider White House staff is similarly homogenous. A lack of women or people of colour in any administration would be alarming, but it might sweeten the pill if these white men weren’t so, well, mediocre.

Trump’s administration is a celebration of white male mediocrity. Take Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and heir to a real estate company, becoming a senior advisor. Or Rex Tillerson, whose only diplomatic experience comes from haggling with Russia over oil prices, becoming Secretary of State.

Sean Spicer is the prime example. Heckling the press and spewing out ‘alternative facts’, Trump’s press secretary is qualified only in that being a disaster makes him the perfect spokesman for a disastrous government. His most memorable demonstration of ignorance came when he claimed that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons, then kept digging by clarifying that Hitler didn’t gas German citizens, only those in so-called “Holocaust centres”.

Defenders claim he was misinterpreted, or just having a bad day. The fact remains, though, that Spicer – a man with demonstrably scant knowledge of politics and history – is a spokesperson for the President. Just as an oil tycoon is Secretary of State, and a civil rights opponent is Attorney General. And, let’s not forget, they’re all working for a President with zero experience of public office, a chronic sufferer of ‘Mediocre White Man Syndrome’ who ran out of sheer entitlement.

Compare this to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. One was an attorney and Senator turned President; the other widely recognised as the most qualified person ever to run for the position. Despite their vast qualifications, both were frequently derided. Clinton was accused of being physically unfit to govern, of being in Wall Street’s pocket, even of creating ISIS, while Republicans spent years blocking everything from Obama’s Supreme Court nominations to healthcare reform (even though now, when faced with enacting their own policies, they’re flailing).

"If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations”

Here is proof, were it ever needed, of American politics’ impossibly high double standards. Even while white men’s multiple failings are overlooked, black and female politicians are expected to be perfect. Republicans criticised Obama for carrying out airstrikes, issuing executive orders, even for playing golf, yet they fall silent when Trump does these things tenfold. Had Clinton uttered just one of the Islamophobic, misogynistic comments Trump made during the election campaign she’d have been mauled (she received enough vitriol over her emails). Yet, in misfired efforts at balance, numerous media outlets claimed both were flawed candidates, as if they were in any way comparable.

Much of this is due to sheer partisan hypocrisy. It’s little coincidence, though, that Republicans’ strongest condemnation was aimed at Obama and Clinton. It exposes the fear and suspicion that results from their continuing unfamiliarity with non-white, non-male leadership. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche said: “If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations”.

The same applies to government. Even without being overtly prejudiced (though several are), US politicians’ relative unfamiliarity with non-white, non-male leaders makes them instantly wary – this isn’t normal, where’s the catch? Whilst the most mediocre white man is seen as typical governing material, a woman or person of colour must be the exception in order to qualify.

Senator Karen Gillibrand testified, “I can’t tell you how many 30-year-old dudes believe they should be senator or president”. By comparison, a 2012 reportfound that women are substantially less likely to think themselves qualified for office. It’s little wonder. This warped perception of who is considered ‘fit to lead’ and how they are scrutinised has lasted too long, and deters the new voices politics needs most.  

Identity politics can be a thorny issue; I’m certainly not arguing that women or people of colour deserve power on a box-ticking basis, or that white men are inevitably awful. When accused of bias, however, many default to the trite “roles should go to the best person for the job” line. If that’s truly the case, then white men should be held to the same standards as Obama and Clinton.

This means no more free passes for Trumps and Spicers. No more “he’s doing his best” or “he had a bad day”. They deserve to be recognised for what they are: mediocre. And mediocre people, of any gender or ethnicity, have no business running a country.

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