The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion When bullies crawl out from under their rocks, Buttigieg goes high

Pete Buttigieg (David Becker/Reuters)

ON THE subject of his sexuality, Pete Buttigieg has gone high. Predictably, others have gone low — and have been only too happy to go lower still as the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s success in the first two Democratic nominating contests has raised his national profile.

I grew up gay in Indiana,” the even-keeled Mr. Buttigieg says in a stock line when asked about the topic. “I’m not afraid of bullies.” Mr. Buttigieg’s stoicism seems genuine; it’s also done nothing to inhibit the bullies from crawling out from beneath their rocks.

The most prominent, to date, has been Rush Limbaugh, the radio host, whose enthusiasm for public predation makes him a strong contender for the title of America’s No. 1 bully. Mr. Limbaugh, who wears his sexism, racism, nativism and assorted other bigotries as badges of honor — he once invited an African American caller to “take that bone out of your nose” — last week sneered that Mr. Buttigieg “loves to kiss his husband on the debate stage.”

Responding to attacks from radio host Rush Limbaugh, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg defended his marriage and alluded to Trump on Feb. 18. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Trump presidency has been a heyday for bullies at home and abroad — for schoolyard tormentors who have weaponized the president’s odious rhetoric against their Hispanic and black classmates; for tyrants around the world ever more emboldened to threaten dissidents and intimidate journalists. Could there be any clearer sign that malice is in official favor than Mr. Trump using the occasion of the State of the Union speech to honor Mr. Limbaugh, around whose neck first lady Melania Trump hung the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Could there be anyone more antithetical to the purported goal of Mrs. Trump’s “Be Best” anti-bullying campaign?

For his part, Mr. Trump has so far refrained from sniping at Mr. Buttigieg, telling an interviewer that he “wouldn’t be among that group” opposing the former mayor’s candidacy because he is gay. It would be nice to think the president’s forbearance would hold. Given his history of demeaning people who are disabled, short, female (including, recently, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg), it’s fair to harbor doubts.

Homophobia is alive and robust in the United States, notwithstanding Mr. Buttigieg’s early success in his party’s Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. A Pew Research survey last year indicated that nearly a third of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court ruled was a constitutional right. A viral video from the Iowa caucuses showed a woman trying to rescind her support for Mr. Buttigieg upon learning that he has a husband.

It is a credit to Mr. Buttigieg’s courage that he has taken the sniping and sneering in stride, discussing his sexual orientation in measured tones and refusing to be provoked by the likes of Mr. Limbaugh. He has spoken of “sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” in an effort to connect with others who have been marginalized. Those others on the margins are the prey of bullies everywhere.

Read more:

Jonathan Capehart:What Pete Buttigieg really said about being gay, prejudice and blacks

E.J. Dionne Jr.: How Pete Buttigieg broke through

Molly Roberts: Pete Buttigieg, millennials’ bane

Colbert I. King: Maybe this is what Pete Buttigieg was trying to say about empathy

Pete Buttigieg: A conversation with the Washington Post Editorial Board

Michelangelo Signorile: Trump has a devastating record on LGBTQ rights. Don’t deny the truth.