Diversity easier to achieve than empathy

SAN DIEGO — A columnist should always admit when he is wrong, but not enough of us are willing to go to confession.

Thankfully, I’m a happily married man with a wife who is more than happy to point out when I’m wrong. And she does a lot of pointing.

Let me confess: I was wrong. For most of my life, I’ve assumed that diversity would lead automatically to empathy.

Seeing how the Obama and Trump administrations both handled damage control when they mangled immigration policy taught me otherwise.

I used to think — naively — that if you put a racial, ethnic or religious minority in a prestigious post, it would make the organization more sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate.

Alex Azar disproves the theory. The Health and Human Services Secretary is charged with putting back together what the Department of Homeland Security broke into itty bitty pieces.

Azar clearly stinks at his job. We know this because so many parents remain separated from their children, and many others have been deported back to their home countries while their children remain on this side of the border in the custody of the Trump administration.

Uncle Sam is not perfect, but who pegged him for a kidnapper?

Azar recently told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that his department should be credited with “one of the great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally.”

Yes, because there is no greater expression of generosity and charity than separating children from their parents — and then failing to reunite them for several weeks or not at all.

It’s not even clear that Trump and Co. have the faintest idea how many children have been taken from their parents. Some estimates are as high as 3,000.

“These kids are happy, they are loved, they are cared for, it is a compassionate environment,” Azar insisted.

Happy, loved and cared for? Seriously? In other words, he is saying that HHS is doing a fine job of acting as a surrogate parent to children who were separated from their real parents. A more “compassionate” approach would have been to not snatch them in the first place.

Azar’s parents must be quite proud. His father, a retired ophthalmologist, is of Middle Eastern descent. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from Lebanon — the kind of place that Donald Trump would label a “shithole.”

This Trump official has lived the American Dream, attending Dartmouth College and Yale Law School and racking up a net worth of at least $8.7 million as a high-level drug company executive before being named HHS Secretary.

We’ve seen this phenomenon before. Cecilia Munoz — the daughter of Bolivian immigrants, the highest-ranking Latina in the Obama White House as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and the administration’s top apologist — defended her boss’s efforts to separate immigrant families. Munoz told PBS: “Even if the law is executed with perfection, there will be parents separated from their children.”

What went wrong? The search for diversity used to produce results that were less embarrassing.

Consider the case of Henry Morgenthau, who served as Treasury Secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Historians record that Morgenthau — who was Jewish — did not go along with the isolationist wave that followed World War I. Nor was he one of those Americans who, in the mid-1930’s, was in denial about the ghastly reports coming out of Europe. Morgenthau was an early advocate for U.S. involvement in the military conflict across the Atlantic that would grow into World War II, and he advised Roosevelt to join the fight.

FDR didn’t heed that advice. The United States didn’t wind up at war with Germany until after our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor. When the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany — in solidarity with its Axis partner — declared war on the U.S.

The first Nuremberg Laws — which were aimed at eliminating the rights of Jews living in Germany, and marginalizing that population — were passed by the Reichstag in September 1935.

It wasn’t until 1945 — 10 years later, at the end of the war — that Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, signed an executive order allowing greater numbers of Jewish refugees to enter the United States.

Still, Morgenthau kept the faith. He was fortunate enough to have been given a seat at the table, and he used it to do the right thing.

Other trailblazers who followed came up short.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group