Many Americas

Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.

Commerce doesn’t lie.  The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief.  I thought:  “Really?  Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?”  The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.

The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did.  Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues.  Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs.  In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.

This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course.  Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone.  And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.

And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day.  The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by.  America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience.  We shouldn’t forget that.

 

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The GOP’s Diversity Conundrum

Many commentators made fun of the Republican Party at its convention last week, lampooning the fact that the diversity of the speakers really doesn’t match the diversity of party membership.  The parade of African-Americans, Latinos, and women, they argued, was like a Potemkin Village designed to mask a party that lacks meaningful diversity.

GOP congressional candidate Mia Love

The diversity issue is an obvious challenge for the GOP.  It’s hard to imagine any party having long-term success if it must begin each election by writing off large, growing segments of the American populace because those segments think the party has no interest in them and nothing to offer them.  The only way for Republicans to overcome that perception, I think, is to show that there are diverse members of the party who have been successful.  It’s a lot easier to convince people to check out your tent if they can peek inside and see a few friendly faces.

And it’s not as if the convention speakers weren’t accomplished in their own right.  The Republicans don’t have to reach down to the county level to find successful Latinos, African-Americans, and women; the diverse speakers at last week’s convention included sitting governors and Senators, a former Secretary of State, and current candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives.  They were an impressive bunch — and if, like me, you were unaware of people like Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, or Mia Love, a congressional candidate from Utah, it was a bit of a revelation.

The stories these folks told about their families, and the opportunities that they were able to enjoy in America through hard work and sacrifice, were compelling — and might actually cause wavering diverse voters to pause and question whether the Republican Party is worth a look. The themes of sacrifice, and hard work, and America as the land of opportunity run deep in families that have immigrated to this country during the last few generations.  I’m guessing that Latinos and other recent immigrants who watched any of the convention learned to their surprise that they had a lot in common with the speakers behind the podium.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez

I don’t think Democrats are in danger of losing their stranglehold on African-American and, to a lesser extent, Latino voters this year, but if I were a Democrat I’d be wondering how my party lost a member like Susana Martinez.  Martinez had the tough assignment of following Condoleezza Rice and preceding Paul Ryan on Wednesday night, and she rose to the occasion and gave a terrific, memorable speech.  She began her political life as a Democrat, like her parents before her, and one day she and her husband were invited to lunch by two Republicans whom she suspected would raise the issue of joining the GOP.  The Martinezes went to the lunch out of politeness and talked with the two Republicans about issues like welfare and the size of government.  After the lunch ended, an astonished Martinez turned to her husband and said:  “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans!”

The GOP is hoping that, if it continues to produce and then feature office-holders and candidates of the quality of Susana Martinez and the other people who stood before the Republican convention, it won’t be long before many more diverse Americans realize, with a start, that they also should be Republicans.  Based on what I saw last week, that strategy just might work.