Zinke is facing a storm of media criticism from liberals for allegedly saying that diversity is “not important,” though his office denies that he said this. The same sources that reported Zinke’s comments say that he followed up by stating that what he cared about was excellence—and that by hiring the best people, he would in fact put together the most diverse group anyone has ever had. This second statement is a cowardly concession (as is his denial of his initial diversity observation, assuming that he made that initial statement). Sometimes meritocracy will yield diversity; sometimes it won’t. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Diversity should not be an end in itself; excellence is the goal.
Rejecting the primacy of diversity constitutes a head-on assault on the received wisdom of Washington and elite American culture. Gender and racial quotas have been the order of business for the last three decades. The #MeToo movement has only intensified pressures on public and private organizations to hire based on sex and skin color. The result: wasted resources, the sidelining of merit, and ever more virulent and irrational identity politics. The rule of the diversity regime is that you’re required to be fanatically obsessed with race and gender until you aren’t—because at that unpredictable moment, whenever it comes, noticing race and sex becomes racist and sexist.