We watched the white supremacists and neo-Nazis carry their torches through the streets of Charlottesville three months ago, chanting their ugly messages of hatred. And in Virginia and all across this country, we asked ourselves what we were becoming.
On Tuesday — in Virginia, in North Carolina, in Minnesota and in many other places — we got a powerful answer. This election wasn’t just a repudiation of President Trump. It was a repudiation of Richard Spencer, the “alt-right,” and the violence and bigotry they are peddling.
Or as Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic governor-elect, put it at his giddy victory party Tuesday night: “Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”
Virginia was once the capital of the Confederacy. Now it symbolizes something very different — the rich and growing diversity of our country.
Let’s start in Charlottesville, where the election of independent Nikuyah Walker marks the first time the City Council will have two African American members.
No one personifies that diversity more than Danica Roem, the Prince William County Democrat who will become the country’s first openly transgender state legislator after defeating the longtime incumbent, Republican Robert G. Marshall. He’d dubbed himself the state’s “chief homophobe,” tried to restrict the rights of transgender residents with a doomed “bathroom bill” and denigrated Roem by referring to her using male pronouns.
“Discrimination is a disqualifier,” she told her jubilant supporters, hailing a world “where we celebrate you because of who you are, not despite it.”
She will be joined in the General Assembly by other women who represent the exact opposite of those bigots who went to Charlottesville:
●Kathy Tran, a Democrat and the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, was elected to represent Fairfax County and will become the first Asian American woman to sit in the House of Delegates.
●Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala both defeated Republican incumbents to become the first Latinas elected to the House of Delegates, where they will represent Prince William County and Manassas.
●Dawn Adams, a Democrat elected in Richmond, is an openly lesbian nurse who campaigned with her partner.
Of the 15 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 11 were won by women.
And Justin Fairfax will be Virginia’s lieutenant governor, making him the first African American to win statewide since L. Douglas Wilder was elected governor in 1989.
But the firsts weren’t limited to Virginia. Across the nation, voters embraced a very different vision of America than the one white nationalists espouse.
In Charlotte, Democrat Vi Lyles will become the city’s first female African American mayor.
In Hoboken, N.J., Ravi Bhalla will become the first turbaned Sikh mayor elected in U.S. history. (Charlottesville’s Satyendra Huja, also a turbaned Sikh, was selected by the City Council to be mayor in 2012 and again in 2014.)
In St. Paul, Minn., Melvin Carter will be the city’s the first black mayor, and in neighboring Minneapolis, two transgender candidates, Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham, won seats on the City Council.
In Seattle, which elected the first female mayor of a major U.S. city — Bertha Knight Landes, in 1926 — voters chose Jenny Durkan to be its second female mayor. Notice the gap of almost 100 years.
And — get this — Montana’s capital city elected a Liberian refugee, Wilmot Collins, to become the state’s first black mayor. He unseated Helena’s four-term mayor, Jim Smith.
These gains, these baby steps to finally make the ruling class reflect the rest of the nation, are huge.
Because Charlottesville this summer was scary. Those torches evoked dangerous times in our history.
And it was Trump, with his angry rhetoric, with his rowdy and often violent rallies, with his divisive executive orders, with his milksop take on white nationalists who snuggled up so close to him, who helped light those torches.
But guess what, torch boys?
We still have a long way to go, but you’re being reduced to a flicker.
Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Landes was the first female mayor in the United States.
Read more Petula Dvorak: