A record in ‘diversity’ of candidates

The field in the 2018 elections shows progress in backgrounds of candidates but at least one contest for Congress shows that diversity can mean more than race or gender.

U.S. Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams take part in a debate in Sandy, Utah, as the two battle for Utah's 4th Congressional District.

It’s taken a civil war and other struggles but America’s democracy is now clearly more welcoming of diversity in its political candidates, at least in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. In the 2018 midterm elections on Tuesday, candidates are more diverse than ever at the federal level and in most state races, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign. One candidate is on track to be the first Native American woman in Congress.

The Democratic Party, which focuses on such identity politics, is leading the trend. This year, white men are a minority of the party’s candidates. The Republican Party, meanwhile, still has far to go. Three in 4 GOP candidates for Congress are white men.

Yet in one House contest, these narrow definitions of diversity are being turned on their head, challenging a notion that one’s political perspective is determined by biology or other material backgrounds.

Mia Love, a Republican incumbent in a Utah congressional district, is a black woman with Haitian ancestry who is running against a white man, Ben McAdams, a local Democratic mayor. Polls indicate a tight race in the normally GOP district, which Ms. Love won in 2014. In contrast to many of today’s electoral contests, the two are competing simply over their diversity of ideas about issues, such as the role of government, as well as their merits as political leaders.

At a time of mass violence in the United States based on views about race, as witnessed in the recent killing of members of a Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist, the Utah contest is a refreshing reminder of democracy’s call for voters and candidates to see themselves in a higher identity as citizens, perhaps even servants to others.

Elections are often seen as a zero-sum contest for power, as if power were a limited entity and only one group can hold it. Yet if “group” is defined as those who hold certain ideas rather than views based on physical or cultural identity, democratic politics becomes easier. It allows for empathy, consensus, and compromise. Different viewpoints are easier to entertain and more easily adopted. Debate over the merits of ideas can lead to new ideas. It helps create patience, as often ideas fail and alternative ones gain ground.

Ideas may not be malleable but people certainly are. US history reflects how people can adapt, even if slowly, to the ideals embedded in its founding documents, such as the equality of individuals and truth as self-evident.

In the American past, writes historian Jill Lepore in a new book, “These Truths,” there is “an extraordinary amount of decency and hope, of prosperity and ambition, and much, especially, of invention and beauty.” Such a diversity of ideas should be as welcome in the halls of power as much as the rising diversity of political candidates.

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