Throughout the night, pundits spent their time talking about Republican wins and Democratic defeats, though the latter was still able to salvage some wins. But the biggest thing many in the media seemed to miss was the biggest loser: discrimination.
Back in my college days, there was one minority governor, Doug Wilder, and two women in the U.S. Senate. Few women ran, much less won, a U.S. House of Representative seat, and those were usually spouses of politicians. Hispanics and Asian-Americans rarely prevailed in any election, much less a statewide contest. It was pretty much a white male only affair.
Many of our readings on politics bemoaned America's political discrimination, speculating as to reasons why the public wouldn't pick qualified candidates who weren't white males. Some of our readings in our Rereading America textbook still bemoan the rampant racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.
Sure Barack Obama won in 2008, but that was dismissed as a fluke. It was a little harder to say lightning struck twice in 2012 (defeating of a pair of strong, qualified candidates in John McCain and Mitt Romney), but he's just one guy and one office, right? It was the same thing they said about Wilder, and that "Year of the Woman" in the 1992 U.S. Senate Elections...one-time deals, right?
But over the years, it's become harder and harder to make the case that people are voting their biases. All across America, there are cases where traditional discrimination took a bigger beating than Democrats.
Voters line up in rural Georgia to cast ballots.
Take the case of South Carolina. Could you honestly say that you expected African-American U.S. Senator Tim Scott to handily win reelection to Strom Thurmond's old seat? Look at Iowa. The state had never picked a woman for a top statewide position before, but Republican State Senator Joni Ernst upset Congressman Bruce Braley (West Virginia also has a first female Senator too). Conservative Utah residents chose Mia Love, a black woman, as one of their members of the House of Representatives. Hispanic GOP Governors Brian Sandoval (Nevada) and Susanna Martinez (New Mexico) were reelected in states Obama won in 2012.
Sure Democrats took a beating, but even their candidates were able to knock down some stereotypes. U.S. Senator Cory Booker, an African-American, won a full-term without too much trouble in a state where Chris Christie is a star. Notice how they hung on in New Hampshire with a pair of women at the top of the ticket? We used to say maybe Year X would be the Year of the Woman. Now we don't seem to bother with the distinction. Expect to see women as presidential and vice-presidential candidates for both parties in 2016.
What's also amazing is that America is making this progress without a system of ballot quotas in place that you see in many other democracies (and are also failing in Ireland, Poland, and other countries). In America, candidates can overcome stereotypes without needing a special law that gives them a place on the ballot. Women and minorities are winning primaries to face the electorate on their own terms, and white males are voting for them.
Even the tone of the election changed. Republicans won by not demonizing Hispanics and calling for draconian Arizona style laws demanding Latinos show proof of identification. Mostly gone was the gay-bashing, sexism, and even race-baiting (not all, of course, but we've come a long way). Both parties are realizing that it's simply un-American. We're a nation of freedom, but also of respect for others. As long as both parties continue that route, we'll proceed to progress as a nation.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.