Okay, I must apologize at the outset, because I’m going to get politically serious on this post. So with that being said, brace yourselves:
For those of whatever persuasion who are big on anniversaries, you probably are aware of the chilling anniversary being marked this week: One year ago, a man who is vain, egotistical, lewd, misogynistic, hateful, womanizing, racist, and chauvinistic was elected President of the United States. It was an election outcome not very many at the time expected would happen, but happen it did.
In the past year, You Know Who (this blog’s regular shorthand for the above mentioned election winner, because, well, he’s so vain that he wants his name on everything he owns as well as on everyone’s lips) has proven to be as terrifying and worrying and one would have imagined. He has behaved in an ignoble — dare I say un-Presidential? — manner, with a political platform not favorable to to anyone who isn’t a rich, white, cis-gender male businessman. He has also firmly embraced and promoted an “Us versus Them” mentality — or to use a more apropos term for someone so vain, “Me versus Everyone Else,” since many, whether or not they’re in his political party or act prostrate to his agenda, do not condone his temperament or his open embrace of extremist views.
Despite that resistance, there is quite a vocal group (i.e. those who voted for You Know Who) that does condone the viewpoints if not also mirror the anger. Whether they are rich or poor, employed or not, or come from big cities or small towns, they have seen their concerns and anger mirrored in this Pied Piper they elected king. And as we’ve seen in places such as Charlottesville, they have channeled their anger in vociferous, violent, and deadly ways. Their words and actions have helped bring civility levels in our country down precipitously, resulting in this chilly atmosphere.
You Know Who, his administration, his leadership style, and most notably his temperament are a complete reversal of the progressive, optimistic, and measured approach of his predecessor. (He’s of a different skin color as well, as if anyone needs reminding.) Needless to say, his election one year ago had myself and other like-minded people scared stiff over what would await us. One year on, we all know what has happened, but there’s still the uneasiness of what may happen — to our country, our planet, our environment, our health, our finances, our well being… and, yes, to an LGBT community now seeing their hard-earned rights being chipped away bit by bit. Those who took their anger to the ballot box one year ago had their reasons then and still have them now. But they conflate why they are angry with who they are angry towards, easily and unfairly placing blame for their troubles on anyone who doesn’t share their skin color, ethnicity, nationality, or gender or sexual identity.
But to paraphrase a politician’s line that became a rallying cry in 2017… nevertheless, we persist. “We,” of course, being the forward thinking in our country. The past 52 weeks have seen the exponential rise of mainly progressive-leaning voices and organizations, most notably the Women’s March movement, who take a stand by not only calling out the bigoted, misogynistic, and shortsighted moves of government at all levels but also promoting and encouraging existing and newer political figures who are women, minorities, and LGBT. To put it succinctly, we may be angry as well, but we are channeling our anger into more positive, more productive avenues, not through throwing fists in anger or demonizing whole segments of the population.
Has all that positive channeling worked? Well, just look at some of the results this past Tuesday, Election Day 2017:
- Manchester, New Hampshire elected its first ever female mayor.
- Seattle, Washington also elected a woman to be mayor; she’ll be not only Seattle’s first female mayor since the 1920s, but also its first openly lesbian mayor.
- Charlotte, North Carolina saw the first African-American woman elected to its mayor’s office.
- Saint Paul, Minnesota and Helena, Montana also saw African-Americans earn mayor seats for the first time; Helena’s is the first mayor of color in Montana’s history, and he also happens to be a refugee from Liberia.
- Hoboken, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor, this despite the ugly face of racism seeking to paint him as something he’s not (a terrorist) late in the race.
- Virginia’s House of Delegates saw its first two Latina women elected, as well as its first Asian-American woman and its first openly lesbian member.
Quite a few significant and historic firsts in that list. But don’t construe it as a comprehensive list. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to the advancements trans people made at the ballot box on Tuesday. Let’s rectify that by beginning with the two people pictured to your immediate right. Her name is Andrea Jenkins, his is Phillipe Cunningham. On Tuesday, both were elected to city council in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jenkins from Ward 8 and Cunningham from Ward 4. (I must cite those links as the photo sources.) Though both are newcomers to their City Council seats, both are not strangers to City Hall; Jenkins served as a policy aide to the council’s former vice president, while Cunningham served the same role to the city’s mayor (who, it must be noted, was defeated in Tuesday’s election). Their resumes also include advocating and supporting residents of their districts and the issues they face everyday. Those impressive resumes and reputations certainly propelled Jenkins and Cunningham to victory on Tuesday, the first two openly trans people of color to be elected to public office in the U.S.
But that’s not all on the trans front: Palm Springs, California also elected an openly trans city councilperson, Lisa Middleton. The election of Middleton is noteworthy in that she is the first trans person elected to a nonjudicial public office in California. The election of both Middleton and Christy Holstege, who is openly bisexual, also means that all 5 seats on the Palm Springs City Council will be occupied by members of the LGBTQ community (the city’s mayor is also openly gay). And in Erie, Pennsylvania, Tyler Titus was elected to the city’s school board, becoming the first trans person to be elected to public office in Pennsylvania.
But perhaps the most noteworthy, or at least the widest reported, election victory by a trans candidate on Tuesday was that of Danica Roem. With her victory in the 13th District of Virginia’s House of Delegates (which covers Manassas and parts of Northern Virginia), Roem became the very first trans person to be elected to a state legislature anywhere in the U.S. (She was already the first openly trans person to run for public office in Virginia.) What makes Danica’s decisive victory all the more delicious is that she defeated a self-professed bigot (old, white, and male, naturally). Said opponent, who had held the seat for over a quarter of a century, authored bills that were blatantly discriminatory to LGBT people as a whole and trans people in particular. He seemed to make Danica’s trans identity an issue at every stop; he constantly misgendered her, refused to debate her, and at one point openly speculated about whether she had had surgery as part of her gender transition.
While her opponent did a lot of goading, issue-averting, and fearmongering, Danica Roem didn’t take the bait. She may have had to make her trans identity part of her campaign (including filming an inspiring ad about you can still see at this link), but she kept it just a sidelight. Utilizing her experience as a newspaper reporter in the area, Danica ran on the issues that mattered most to voters in the 13th District: School funding and improvements. Transportation and road repairs. Economic development. Water infrastructure and utilities. You know, the “bread and butter” issues. In other words, Danica Roem took the high road during the campaign, and she continued to take that road after her 10-point victory on Tuesday, declining to criticize her opponent afterwards and stressing that her campaign concentrated on “building up our infrastructure and not tearing down each other.”
Many political analysts who regularly read the political tea leaves have interpreted the victories of Danica Roem and other inclusive, progressive-leaning candidates (trans or otherwise) as an out-and-out repudiation against You Know Who. Their general consensus has been that if You Know Who hasn’t been able to get anything done nearly a year after becoming You Know What, why on Earth should his party be rewarded with new election victories?
Personally, I believe that the voters’ realization that You Know Who can’t do diddly is only one reason for this week’s results. Indeed, there were at least a few losing candidates this week who ran campaigns that borrowed from the divisive campaign playbook You Know Who rode to victory one year ago, including the losing candidate for Governor of Virginia. His loss; the losses by other divisive candidates (among them the bigot Danica Roem unseated); and the advancements of a variety of diverse candidates, including those I’ve mentioned here and those I could not, show that people desire to get past the divisiveness and tackle the real issues we face together — issues that do not include restricting LGBT rights or telling trans people which restrooms they should or should not use — and put their trust in new voices who are willing to bridge differences and work to bring real solutions to real issues.
Of course, the advancements of this week involved a lot of blood and sweat. The victors didn’t sit back, rub a magic lamp, and asked the genie for their wins. Nope, they did a lot of marching, vocalizing, speechifying, door-knocking, hand-shaking, relationship-bulding — a lot of campaigning — to get their message out. And it’s not done yet, of course. The closed-minded who still run the levers of government in this country, as well as those who support them and want to join them, still feel emboldened to lead us into a dark future so far as You Know Who still occupies the You Know What. Indeed, another notoriously bigoted candidate wants to join the lever-pullers in Washington from a state in the Deep South where many folks will lap up anything he says and will say “So what?” to the fact that he’s a documented fondler of women. (Yuck!) That’s why there’s still a lot of work to be done, and no rest for the just.
Knowing that this week’s election victories were the fruits of hard work, my mind was reminded of the words of someone who never ran for political office but did cover politics from the Fourth Estate: In 1970, literally 3 days before my first birthday (not that that part means anything), Chet Huntley retired from NBC News and the nightly newscast he anchored with David Brinkley. Before he rode off to Montana on that horse NBC gave him as a retirement gift, Huntley bid his viewers adieu with this message, including the words at the 1:13 mark I want to highlight (you may need to adjust your computer’s volume on this):
“Be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it.” Chet Huntley may have been thinking about journalism with those words, but they can certainly apply to those who desire a progressive, diverse, and hopeful future. That future won’t happen overnight. There will still be many dark paths to traverse. And there are no guarantees that the future will be as ideal as we hope it will be. But if we keep patient, have courage, and by golly, work at it, there will indeed be a better and happier future one day. For all of us.