The 2018 midterms have made history. On Wednesday, in a night of many firsts, we saw the election of candidates who look set to break barriers across America, and have already begun to change the face of the House.
Democrat Ayanna Pressley will become Massachusetts’s first black member of the US House of Representatives, while Jared Polis was victorious in Colorado, becoming the nation's first openly gay governor-elect. Sharice Davids is one of the first Native American congresswomen and the first openly lesbian one, to represent Kansas, too.
These historic firsts are bolstered by Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the Democratic candidates who will become the first Muslim women in Congress come January.
Tlaib, a Palestinian-American whose parents were Palestinian immigrants, secured Michigan’s 13th congressional district in a race in which she was the sole major party candidate, having won the Democratic primary earlier this year. But she has been making her voice heard for some time; in 2008, Tlaib became the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan state legislature, and used this record of taking on corporate interests and defending local priorities as part of her congressional campaign.
Meanwhile in Minnesota Omar, a refugee from Somalia, won the seat previously held by Keith Ellison. Omar is not only one of the first Muslim women elected into Congress, but the first Somali-American, and first woman of colour from the state elected to Congress.
Like Tlaib, Omar has political form; in 2016, she was elected a Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American, Muslim legislator in the United States.
That Americans can now look to a House filled with trailblazing candidates, who are already beginning to diversify American politics by their mere presence, is groundbreaking. And the question on many minds is how this will shape the rest of Trump’s presidency.
We are all familiar with the controversies that have followed Trump during the first half of his term in office. In December 2015, his call for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” included refusing to readmit Muslim-American citizens who were outside of the country at the time.
During an interview on CNN in 2016, Trump said: “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that — there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred”.
In that same year, he ordered more than 26,000 bombs to be dropped on Muslim nations like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan- regions of the world where innocent lives are being lost every single day.
The election of two Muslim women in Congress, one of whom was born in Somalia which, an investigation found, saw more than twice the US airstrikes in the last six months of 2017 than the entirety of the year prior, may mean Trump is facing a new kind of political challenge. And Tlaib, a Democratic-Socialist, was famously escorted from a Trump rally in 2016 as she shouted questions at the him, asking him if he had ever read the Constitution.
With hate crimes against Muslims having risen in the US by 15 per cent in 2017, Tlaib and Omar’s victories present a much needed alternative narrative. Now, these women have a seat at the table of the most powerful of all the branches of the US government. We too sit and wait, hopeful for impending change.