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A New American Motto: I Care About Me and Mine

2016 a bad year for the notion of common good

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida who has a transgender son breaks with her party on LGBT issues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida who has a transgender son breaks with her party on LGBT issues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.” The signs have sprouted up around my neighborhood, to plead with those cutting through the narrow streets to just slow down. Though I’m not sure it will work, I recognize the tactic. It seems the only way to gain empathy, charity or a smidgen of decent behavior is to make it personal. While one can understand, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the country if making it personal is the only way to make it right.  

Right now though, it seems that’s the major incentive for breaking policy makers out of a partisan mold.  

In the midst of a national debate over the right of transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms with which they identity — a battle that has escalated from a Charlotte ordinance to a state law in North Carolina to the courts to a Justice Department mandate — a quieter voice rose out of Florida. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, and Dexter Lehtinen, who served as a federal prosecutor, have done everything they could — including appearing in a public service announcement — to support their transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen.  

“I worried about his safety and about his well-being,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen told The New York Times . “I didn’t want him to be depressed. You think of all the parade of horribles that could happen.” Yes, especially when those “horribles” could happen to the person you gave birth to and nurtured. So on this one issue, at least, she is breaking with party to join with the position of the Obama administration.  

Ohio Republican Rob Portman found himself in a similar spot, when he wrote in The Columbus Dispatch in 2013 on when and why he changed his stand on gay marriage — from against to in favor — with much soul searching. It was after his son came out to him and his wife. Portman wrote: “Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.”  

Some have speculated that with his switch, Portman may have taken himself out of the running for the vice presidential spot on Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP ticket during the vetting process. No sacrifice is too great when blood is involved.  

[LGBT Provision Divides GOP]
In this great American experiment, one thing that keeps it moving, despite stumbles along the way, is the notion of common good, the sense that we are all in this together. This is not a good year for that theme, not when the prevailing view seems more about exclusion than inclusion.  

The presumptive Republican nominee , Donald Trump, is finding great success by reverting to tribe with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” One wonders, for whom? At his rallies, lines that garner the loudest reaction place the blame for American discontent on Mexicans, Muslims and protesters who possibly deserve — and have gotten — a punch in the face.  

A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that two-thirds of voters who hold a favorable opinion of Trump  believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a quarter of them believe that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered.  The same survey showed 59 percent of those who like Trump think Obama was not born in the United States and just 13 percent believe he’s a Christian.    

You can only imagine what these folks think of the American citizens who voted for Obama — twice. Surely not as members of one, big contentious family with whom they share a bond.  

And you have to ask those who sent vile and threatening emails to the Democratic official in Nevada after a raucous state convention , “Would you say such a thing to your mother, daughter or sister?”  

Reaction and inaction on other issues flow from this same inability to see ourselves in the faces of those who don’t share the same DNA, neighborhood, school, social club or church.  

Is that one reason the residents of Flint, Michigan, are still suffering after a moment in the headlines? Congressional action on relief has slowed, even as “Little Miss Flint” has joined the fight , and one wonders how long it would have taken if it were a senator’s child drinking and bathing in toxic water .  


Is that why a repeated argument in support of the wide-ranging voter identification bills passed in the states is, “Well, you need an ID to board a plane or buy a beer,” when there are many Americans without the desire or resources to do either?  

It’s a positive step that as parents, first, and politicians, second, more Americans are expanding the way they view the world and adjusting their definition of values. God knows, that still is not always the case.  

But if that’s what it takes — staring into the eyes of a person across the dinner table — to see common humanity and pain and to offer relief, it doesn’t offer much hope for how a diverse America is going to solve 21st century challenges.  

It may, however, be a start.  

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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