The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Distinguished pols of the week: This is what moral outrage sounds like

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow at the state Capitol in Lansing on Jan. 29. (Al Goldis/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat, did not sit idly by after a Republican colleague sent out a fundraising email labeling her as someone who would “groom and sexualize kindergartners.” Instead, McMorrow blasted the lie in a powerful speech last week.

The attack on McMorrow echoed common rhetoric among MAGA cultists, including the despicable attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson from Republican senators that the soon-to-be justice is “soft” on child pornographers. But McMorrow refused to let it slide. “I sat on it for a while, wondering: Why me? And then I realized: Because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme,” she said. "Because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of ‘parental rights’ if another parent is standing up to say no.”

She concluded with this message: “I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen. So I want to be very clear right now: Call me whatever you want. I hope you brought in a few dollars. I hope it made you sleep good last night. I know who I am. I know what faith and service means and what it calls for in this moment. We will not let hate win.” The Republican senator who sent out the email, McMorrow later said, wouldn’t bother to look her in the eye.

McMorrow was not the only Democrat who recently stood up to bigots. Earlier this month, Missouri state Rep. Ian Mackey also went viral by denouncing the persecution of LGBTQ Americans. Addressing his Republican colleague Rep. Chuck Basye, who sponsored an amendment to a bill to prohibit transgender girls from participating in sports, Mackey noted that Basye’s gay brother had delayed coming out for fear of Basye’s reaction.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

“If I were your brother, I would have been afraid to tell you, too,” Mackey told him. “Because this is what you’re focused on. This is the legislation you want to put forward. This is what consumes your time.” Mackey, who is gay, continued: “I was afraid of people like you growing up. ... I grew up in a school district that would vote tomorrow to put this in place. And for 18 years, I walked around with nice people like you who took me to ballgames, who told me how smart I was. And then [they] went to the ballot [box] and voted for crap like this. And I couldn’t wait to get out, to move to a part of our state that would reject this stuff. ... Thank God I made it out.”

"Gentlemen, I’m not afraid of you anymore,” Mackey concluded. “Because you’re gonna lose. You may win this today, but you’re going to lose.” It was a passionate demand for decency, for fairness and for empathy.

These speeches went viral in large part because they are the sort of declarations of moral principle one hears too infrequently from Democrats. Cowed by the culture wars, they’ve tried to change the subject to economic issues, despite warnings and pleas that doing so would be morally and politically unsound. Most Americans stand with Democrats on these issues. Polling shows a majority of voters do not want censorship or book banning, do not like bullies and do not want prohibitions on classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The MAGA crowd’s cultural grenades launched at schools are not a response to actual problems; they are an effort to stir up their own fearful and resentful base, which believes it has been victimized by far-left elites. When Republicans are called out for this hateful legislation masquerading as protection for children, their intentions are laid bare. Mackey is correct: If the hatemongers are confronted, they will lose power. Hopefully the rest of the party is listening and will stand up to the purveyors of bad-faith bills designed to inflame Americans and pit them against one another.

For showing Democrats how to stand up to cultural bullies, we can say well done, Rep. Mackey and Sen. McMorrow.