White, male, Protestant, heterosexual.
With one possible and under-the-radar exception, every U.S. president from George Washington through Dwight D. Eisenhower was all four of those things.
And, with three definite exceptions, the 1928 nomination by the Democratic Party of Gov. Al Smith of New York (who was Catholic) and the nominations of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (which are closer to current events than to history), the same could be said of all major parties’ nominees for president. All straight, white, male Protestants.
The under-the-radar exception was President James Buchanan, elected in 1856, who may have been gay, although certainly not openly. But when I was young, the safe way to reference the Buchanan exception was to say that he was the first and only “bachelor president.” It’s likely he was gay, but he certainly could never have been elected anything in 1856 if he had been openly so.
In 1960, the election of Catholic John F. Kennedy broke the Protestants-only streak. But JFK’s religion made his nomination seem risky, which is why, during the 1960 Democratic primary campaign (back in the day when candidates didn’t compete in every primary contest), JFK felt he had to enter and win (and did win) the West Virginia primary (over his chief rival during that primary season, Minnesota’s own Hubert Humphrey) to reassure the party that it might be OK to nominate a Catholic.
West Virginia was viewed as the kind of place where anti-Catholic sentiment would be high, which is why JFK had to demonstrate that he could win there, to reassure the party that nominating a Catholic might not be political suicide.) And that, by the standards of the time, was a huge blow for toleration of diversity.
In 2008, Obama (of mixed white and African parentage), was the first to break the Only Whites Need Apply barrier. (In case you forgot, in addition to his African father and white mother, Obama had an Indonesian stepfather, and spent part of youth living in Indonesia. Now that was some wild and crazy diversity.)
Heading into 2020, there are plenty of people, including some potentially big contenders like Joe Biden (who happens to be a Catholic, but, post-JFK, that’s no longer considered much of a shock factor), who are still contemplating whether to enter the 2020 field for the Democratic nomination. And there are a couple of minor candidates.
But after Sunday’s Amy Klobuchar announcement, there were already nine major declared Democratic candidates, exactly none of whom are white, heterosexual, Protestant males. Each of them has at least one of the formerly shocking characteristics that would have likely precluded them from a presidential race.
Some of them check off TWO of the formerly excluded characteristics. That would be Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who is both female and has an ethnically mixed parentage (a Jamaican father and a Tamil Indian mother); U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, female and part Samoan; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (female and Catholic); and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (Latino and Catholic).
To run down the rest and the ways they cross what until recently (and maybe still) have been considered huge barriers:
South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg is gay. (And, if elected, would turn 39 the day before his inauguration, which would make him the first president under 40).
U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland is Catholic.
And, of course, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar are female.
I think there are many of progressive bent struggling to maintain optimism owing to the current drift of the American experiment. I feel your pain. And the details of the above information are not really terribly significant until we see how the next election goes.
But, if/when we inaugurate the first female or gay president, it will certainly be a landmark in U.S. history and, on those days when you (or I) wonder whether, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.”
And lastly, I’ll note that if Minnesota’s senior senator has a successful bid for the presidency, she would not only be the first of her distinguished gender to occupy the Oval, but also the first U.S. president descended (on her dad’s side) from Slovenes, although a member of her dad’s tribe does already live in the White House.