One of Ed Gillespie's television ads in the Virginia Governor's race started with this wholesome, family-friendly line: "MS-13's motto is kill, rape, control." The ad was referencing a criminal gang and using them as a xenophobic tool to scare people into voting for Gillespie. His opponent, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, is a physician and U.S. Army veteran. Northam called Gillespie's ad "despicable," and so did the Washington Post, and I'd like to add my name to that list because I think it's gross and shameful.
The list of horrible things that Donald Trump has directly inflicted on American politics is extensive -- horrible executive orders, signing bad bills into law, destroying norms, undercutting the first amendment, following an incoherent foreign policy, and more. That's just the beginning. But one more indirect result Trump that I find equally awful and scary is the emboldening of elected Republicans who now think it's acceptable and/or electorally beneficial to say inflammatory, mean, and untrue things. Gillespie's ad is a great example of even mainstream, supposedly-moderate Republicans embracing the scorched earth, win-at-all-costs, truth-be-damned idiocy that Trump's 2016 campaign embodied. It's about motivating through fear instead of hope or a positive vision.
Tonight mattered. This off year election mattered, and not just for Virginia and New Jersey and the cities and towns that held local elections with city council candidates and school bonds. It mattered because it was the first opportunity to see if there would be any partisan consequences for the embarrassing behavior of the least knowledgable and least ethical president probably in American history.
It turns out that there are. Starting tonight, you can call Ralph Northam the Governor-Elect of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I exhaled the biggest sigh of relief when they called the race for Northam, after a few days of political prognosticators predicting either a Northam loss or a razor tight margin. Northam's victory speech vowed to "end the politics that have torn this country apart." He called for unity and inclusion: "I will make sure that we are inclusive, that we welcome people...our lights will be on, our doors will be open." And as the night developed and more returns came in, a few more remarkable stories started being reported across the country.
My favorite commentary on the night came from Charlotte Alter, national correspondent for Time: "A trans woman beat the guy who introduced the bathroom bill. A gun victim's boyfriend beat a delegate with an 'A' grade from the NRA. A civil rights lawyer who sued the police department just became the top prosecutor in Philadelphia. Something's happening here, folks."
Something is happening, indeed. In addition, two black lieutenant governors were elected. A Sikh man was elected mayor in Hoboken. A democratic socialist was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, part of a massive wave of wins that are incredibly close to shifting the majority of the chamber. Maine voted to expand Medicaid to tens of thousands of voters in the midst of GOP attempts to roll back health care coverage across the country.
These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. It was a great night for America, and a scary night for Paul Ryan and his caucus.
Danica Roem is one of the newly elected members of the Virginia House of Delegates. She also happens to be a transgender woman. After her win, she was asked to comment on her opponent -- the guy who wrote the so-called "bathroom bill," another tool of the right designed to create fear and divide. It would have been an easy opportunity for Roem to proclaim victory, to assign a deeper meaning to her win, to claim a mandate, to denounce her opponent's bigotry. It was a perfect moment for her to do any or all of those things, and I'm not sure she would have been wrong to do them.
But instead, she did something better.
“I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.”
When I was a kid, every time we lost a particularly heartbreaking little league baseball game or won a hard fought victory on the rec basketball floor, my dad (who was always my coach) would say the same thing: we win with class and we lose with class. More than anything, I'm proud that most of the Democrats who won tonight, Northam and Roem included, did so with class and dignity. If we're going to patch this country together again in the wake of Trump's destruction powered by selfishness, greed, and lack of regard for our institutions, it's going to take Roem's level of humility and grace and patriotism.