When you’re the father of a 13-year-old daughter, you never know when you’ll get a tough question.
“What’s in this for you, Dad?” she asked recently. “I mean, as a white guy, why do you care what happens to immigrants or minorities or women? Wouldn’t it be in your self-interest to support Donald Trump?”
Earlier in the day, she had asked me to take her to the San Francisco airport to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees. She had been to the women’s march the day after the inauguration and wanted to stay politically active. So when her younger siblings went down for their afternoon nap, we drove to the airport and spent two hours chanting, cheering and bonding.
Her question felt like an insult. But as I considered her words I realized that it was an honest concern. When my daughter looks at Trump’s Cabinet and the Republican congressional leadership, she sees old white men. It makes sense that if she had a problem with a government run by old white men, she would take it up with the old white man she knows best. And that’s me.
“Well, you know,” I stumbled, “I went to a Jesuit high school, and they taught me …”
“To be a man for others, I know,” my daughter says, finishing my thoughts. “So it’s just the right thing to do? I know you don’t support Trump, but he supports you.”
Trump is hostile to Muslims, immigrants and women, among many other groups. Xenophobia is an abhorrent quality in anyone. I was tempted to agree with my daughter, to say that I oppose Trump on principle, simply because he’s wrong. But I realized that wasn’t the whole truth.
“You’re thinking too narrowly about self-interest,” I said.
The benefits of diversity for all types of organizations, from governments to businesses, are well established. McKinsey & Co, a management consulting firm, has found that companies with diverse boards and top management enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. Why? Because people from diverse backgrounds approach problems differently, leading to novel solutions that could not have been reached in more homogeneous environments.
It’s true in my field as well. I teach creative writing at a state university. When I craft a reading list for my students, many of whom aspire to become published writers, diversity is my foremost concern – and not because I’m trying to be politically correct. I want my students to read a variety of voices, because in the competitive world of fiction writing, a unique voice is essential. And if my students are reading the same books as everyone else, their writing will resemble everyone else’s.
Innovation in any field, from literature to business, does not simply bubble up. It must be engineered from raw materials.
“Thanks for your perspective,” my daughter said. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
Honestly? Neither had I. During the 2016 presidential campaign, I recognized the limitations of Hillary Clinton’s strategy. Her “Stronger Together” campaign emphasized identity politics, the idea that voters think of themselves as members of particular identity groups – like black, Latino or LGBTQ – and vote for the candidate they think will best serve them. Since her defeat, commentators have speculated that Clinton would have done better to focus on economic interest groups rather than social ones.
But to me, it’s wrong to dismiss what Clinton was trying to do. A coalition like the one she built has benefits beyond electoral politics.
Democrats will never recover from the election unless they deal with the concerns of white working-class Americans. But there is no need for Democrats to shy away from diversity. The key is to show white voters how diversity benefits them.
“What’s in this for you, Dad?” my daughter asked.
My answer? Everything.
Nicholas P. Taylor is Director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.