Yes! Virginia: There Is A Santa Claus

Democrats sweep the 2017 Virginia election

Yes, as I used to tell students when I was a high school English teacher, punctuation makes a difference…

Wordplay aside, I am gratified to report that, on Tuesday, Santa Claus–aka Virginia voters–brought Americans a welcome gift: Sanity, and a resounding repudiation of white nationalism and the politics of fear.

Ed Gillespie ran a campaign based squarely upon Steve Bannon’s promise that “Trumpism without Trump” would carry the day. It is no longer plausible–if it ever was– to characterize “Trumpism” as anything other than racial resentment, and the appeals to bigotry in Gillespie’s ugly and reprehensible political ads were anything but subtle.

Virginia voters also repudiated homophobia, replacing one of the most anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender members of Virginia’s legislature with a trans woman–and by a very healthy margin. Rejection of the politics of hate wasn’t limited to Virginia, either; in Minneapolis, a black trans woman was elected to the city council. Even in more conservative areas of the country, voters ignored efforts to stigmatize immigrants, non-Christians and African-Americans. A Liberian refugee is the new mayor of Helena, Montana. Hoboken, New Jersey has its first Sikh mayor.

Initial analyses of Virginia voting patterns brought confirmation of widening divides between urban and rural voters, and between college-educated and non-college-educated white voters. It also gave political observers a better understanding of which non-urban precincts should be categorized as “rural” for purposes of electoral prediction.  As the Guardian noted, despite a campaign that repeatedly stumbled, and a candidate who was earnest and moderate, but considerably less than charismatic,

Northam still won by overwhelming margins in suburban and exurban areas, taking 60% of the vote in both Prince William and Loudoun counties, rapidly growing suburbs and exurbs of Washington DC. When Gillespie ran for Senate in 2014 against the popular incumbent Mark Warner, he won Loudoun County and lost Prince William by less than 3%.

It wasn’t just in Virginia that suburban voters rejected Trumpism.  Democrats won victories with suburban votes in races across the country. From the  populous New York suburbs of Nassau County and Westchester County, to mayoral races in  cities like Charlotte, North Carolina; St Petersburg, Florida; and Manchester, New Hampshire, voters in the nation’s suburbs decisively favored Democrats. As the Guardian article concluded,

The midterms are a year away and a lot can happen between now and then. But the changing political demographics of the US, combined with Trump’s low approval ratings, mean that Democrats can feel confident they are on the right track at present. They may no longer be the party of coalminers in Appalachian hollows but, based on Tuesday’s result, they are now the party of an increasing number of suburban subdivisions.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this dynamic plays out in red states like Indiana. According to the last polling I saw, despite the fact that he won the state handily, Trump’s Indiana favorability has declined by 19 points since the election. That decline probably won’t matter much to contests in the truly rural parts of the state, but it will be interesting to see if the more affluent, educated and cosmopolitan suburbs follow the pattern that emerged on Tuesday.

Tuesday provided us with a gratifying reaffirmation of Americans’ basic goodness, but it’s not nearly time to stop agitating, protesting and resisting.

 

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on November 9, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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