Who says social media has introduced nothing of value into the culture?

There's the subtweet, the ironic/you-don't-trouble-me like or heart, and, of course, the public clap-back made from a safe distance behind a computer screen. Okay, all of that can lead to voluminous humiliation, frustration, anger and regret. But sometimes, human beings need an outlet for their negative feelings, their principled disappointment and recriminations too. And this week, those paying attention to the cross-platform social-media war of Capital Hill intern photos know precisely what we are talking about.

First, on Sunday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) dispatched this via Instagram.

Notice anything that seems a bit off about what Ryan thinks may be the  largest selfie of Capitol Hill interns, anything that doesn't look or feel quite like America circa 2016? No?

Well, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) certainly did.

Democratic Interns on Capitol Hill 2016 #DemInternSelfie

Posted by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Use your mouse. Scroll between those photos. In the first, it looks almost as if someone was trying to seed a political game of Where's Waldo? The object: a totally not funny search for people of color. In the second, third and fourth, lawmakers on the other side of the aisle were trying to make a point.

Now, for those inclined to dismiss this as so much social-media chatter, or even another moment of gratuitous diversity celebration or self-congratulation by Democrats, go back and read the text of Johnson's post.

These are pictures of Capitol Hill interns, summer 2016. These are young people who will, yes, probably get some coffee and make some copies but also answer constituent correspondence and alert senior staff to those deserving of more attention. They will take notes at all manner of subcommittee meetings and draft memos and provide research for policy briefs. And, some of these young people will — if they are anything at all like the classes before them — become so enamored with the grunt work of policymaking that they will apply for entry-level staff jobs. Some will remain so enthralled that they will become senior staff, committee attorneys, advisers to elected officials or become elected officials themselves. This is the pipeline to political power. The drafting and making of laws is work that shapes all of our lives. It is real.

And folks, the real problem with limited, sometimes still utterly absent racial, ethnic, religious, economic and gender diversity in the halls of power is that people sometimes cannot understand, believe to be real or solve what they have never faced.

Also, the absence of diversity on Capitol Hill is limited to the very top (lawmakers) or the very bottom (intern). This we also know for sure. A study released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies at the end of 2015 found that in the previous year:

... People of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. public and 28 percent of those old enough and eligible to vote in the United States, but they are included in just 7.1 percent of all senior-level Senate staff, according to the study. And those figures are scarcely better than they were a decade ago, when people of color made up 6 percent of the entire Senate staff — prompting the magazine Diversity Inc. to publish a story about this fact under the headline, "Whose Is Worst for Diversity? The United States Senate."

There are similar problems with both the top, bottom and the pipeline in almost every industry and field.

It was kind of Ryan to join a selfie with interns. The young folks behind him look happy and energetic in that way that only people who haven't hit 25 yet can. And, of course, without inquiring about the racial and ethnic background of every person in every one of these photos, we can't say with certainty that everyone in it is white, save three Asian Americans. But we can say this.

First, when speaking about issues such as poverty or racism recently, Ryan somehow mysteriously found himself in the company of many black people. Whatever effort was made there could be extended to intern recruitment and/or photos. Unless, of course, black people are props for political activity.

Second, nearly 40 percent of the American population is black, Latino, Asian or Native American. And, when gathering what may be the largest-ever selfie of Capitol Hill interns, even on the Republican side, when this is the picture produced, it means either some people weren't invited to the photo op or some people didn't apply, didn't get an intern slot or could not afford to do either. Most Capitol Hill intern positions remain unpaid or paid in a very limited fashion, making it hard for lots of students and their families to even consider such a thing.

And third, to be frank here, to get a class of interns this white in this country, at this point that's also a strong sign that something about the recruiting and hiring process is, well, off. You have to work to accomplish these results.

Unless, of course, you believe that only white interns could possibly be qualified. And, Ryan spent part of the year telling Donald Trump that there's a word for those kind of ideas. And, it makes for the kind of America that Ryan told the Republican National Convention Tuesday night he and his party don't want.