The election of Donald Trump one year ago and the 2017 elections on Nov. 7 were both characterized by a kind of political rule-breaking when it comes to types of candidates, and both have plenty to indicate about elections to come. Many of the voters who packed into the Trump camp a year ago were attracted by his untraditional, unapologetically unfiltered candidacy, refreshed by his tactics and by promises to “drain the swamp.” But in many cases, the campaign broke convention in the worst of ways, from revelations of Trump sexually assaulting women to mentioning shooting people on Fifth Avenue. This year’s off-year elections also broke down convention, but this time in an entirely opposite and entirely better fashion. Danica Roem, elected in Virginia, became the first openly transgender legislator. Virginia’s House also nearly doubled the number of women serving. Ravi Bhalla became New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor. The list of these inspiring firsts goes on. Together, these events show that American voters don’t want a return to the old normal of elections, but also that it is possible to break from tradition in dignified rather than obscene ways.
It can be perplexing to think that there are some shared interests between some of the voters who swept in these progressive new officials in 2017 and some of the voters who chose Trump for the way he contrasted with more traditional candidates. It is certainly true that many of the 2017 victories were triumphs over hate and discrimination and that Trump’s win was often defined by that hate and discrimination—the different election years are not at all similar in these ways. Where the similarity comes in is the desire to see a candidate reject the confines of political races and put new people in places of power. The sweeping Democratic success on Nov. 7 is very encouraging for all those in favor of progressive politics, but we can’t forget that Trump’s base is still strong. If there is hope for more unity in the future, there will have to be more understanding between the two groups. Focusing on the desire to elect officials who bring fresh ideas and personas to various levels of government could very well be a way to find some common ground.
We cannot let something like Donald Trump’s election happen again in terms of electing a bigot in the name of being untraditional. But we also don’t have to return to old conventions, nor should we. Electing people with innovative ideas who represent lots of different American voices oftentimes means electing people, like Danica Roem, who set some firsts. Unlike 2016, the 2017 elections proved that tradition can be broken in ways that promote dignity and diversity and respect. People who shout what they want and tweet what they want are not our only options for putting new faces in government. We should take notice of rare common ground—in this case the desire to ditch convention—and promote these shared ideas with integrity, compassion and inclusion.