Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow inspires Democrats by refusing to stay silent after a Republican state senator attacked her and her beliefs (first published 4/25/22)
Author’s note: This was originally published on April 25, 2022. This is one of a series of dispatches that I’m sharing while traveling. The need to hit back—and to spotlight inspiring elected officials—has only become more obvious since this was first written.
I hear frequently from people angry about exploitative Republicans scapegoating vulnerable others to appeal to their base. Many of those same people are demoralized by Democrats who fail to push back, thereby increasing the prospects that this hateful culture war becomes normalized and strengthens the GOP base. As the country heads toward the midterm elections, this failure risks depressing turnout and increasing the possibility of the GOP taking back the majority.
This past week the target was LGBTQ youth, and Michigan state Senator Lana Theis insisting that Democratic state Senator Mallory McMorrow is a “groomer” who wants to “sexualize kindergarteners.”
Why did Republican Theis attack Morrow? Because she supports the LGBTQ community and understands that some young people grapple with questions of identity and sexual orientation. Theis complained that “our children” are being assaulted by “gender-bending indoctrination,” innocence-stealing “exposure to sexual content,” and race-based “critical race theory” that is “pitting children against each other.”
McMorrow was having none of it—and decided to say exactly what she thinks and how she feels about it. Her words should serve as a strong example of the power of speaking clearly, refusing to be characterized wrongly, and demanding to stand against those bent on treating compassion toward marginalized communities and people as some kind of dirty crime.
I am sharing some of what she said, but I hope you’ll also take five minutes to listen to and watch McMorrow, because it’s her vivid, barely controlled outrage that gives her words such power. She’s angry, and that anger tells the millions who’ve now heard her on social media that she’s not going to stand by and let Theis define her, misrepresent her intentions or spread hate toward this vulnerable population. Nope, she’s going to hit back.
“I didn’t expect to wake up yesterday to the news that the Senator from the 22nd district had overnight accused me by name of grooming and sexualizing children in an email fundraising for herself,” McMorrow began. “So 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. 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.”
“So then what? Then you dehumanize and marginalize me. You say that I'm one of them. You say, ‘She’s a groomer. She supports pedophilia. She wants children to believe that they were responsible for slavery and to feel bad about themselves because they’re white.’”
Then McMorrow asserted not only who she is—her mother taught her that she had a responsibility “to be of service to others, especially people who are marginalized, targeted and who had less, often unfairly”—but also her refusal to sit back while Theis repeated the GOP strategy of attacking school discussions of slavery and racism.
“I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism somehow means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense…No child alive today is responsible for slavery. No one in this room is responsible for slavery. But each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history...We are not responsible for the past. We also cannot change the past. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen, or deny people their very right to exist.”
McMorrow then reminded that these demagogic culture wars are not only an expression of hate toward people who are different—they are employed as distraction from real governance.
“I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard, and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian,” she said. “We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives.”
And then she added this: “People who are different are not the reason that our roads are in bad shape after decades of disinvestment, or that healthcare costs are too high, or that teachers are leaving the profession.”
Her final note: “I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”
In fact, McMorrow is not the only one stepping up. This weekend bestselling author and activist Don Winslow announced that he was retiring from the book writing business after his latest crime trilogy is published. He wants to expand his already considerable efforts (over 250 million views for his political videos, he says) at hitting back against Trump and Trumpism, which he calls “a cancer that has metastasized across the country.”
His view of where the country is headed: “I believe a more dangerous form of it will emerge after the November midterms. I know some people disagree. It’s easy to spot them because they’re the ones who told you Trump was never going to be elected and have been promising you for years that he’s going to jail.”
His plan is to produce political videos that attract a billion views—videos that “hit hard, create change, and help win key races across the country.” And his purpose is clear; this world-renowned crime writer wants justice to be served. “I want to see real consequences for Trump, his family, and the enablers who share his cynical, soulless, corrupt, and sub-literate worldview,” he stated. “I want to see real consequences for the architects of January 6 and not just the foot soldiers.”
This is his focus now, he concluded, what feels urgent for him because “Democrats don’t yell loud enough about their own accomplishments and we don’t yell loud enough when Republicans break the law.”
I for one am rooting for his success—and more messaging that makes clear the Democrats will push back against the hateful, the cruel, the criminal.
In a sane world, one not wracked with wannabe dictators and bully boys bent on proving how tough they are, we would want leadership that models civility and decency. Honestly, that’s a world that I would prefer to live in.
But that’s not where we are, especially with Trump still lingering on the horizon, shameless bullies like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis determined to emulate Trumpian sociopathy, a sizable percent of the GOP convinced that political violence can be justified, and a radicalized GOP base willing to sacrifice the peaceful transfer of power and still convinced the 2020 election was stolen.
These are realities that demand a tougher response if America is going to avoid a further autocratic pivot and move beyond gaslighting Republicans successfully projecting their worst impulses onto Democrats and producing an increasingly unsafe nation.