Everybody on the pro-democracy side seems to be in orbit over the searingly eloquent takedown by Michigan state senator Mallory McMorrow, which melted the MAGA stickers off bumpers for half a mile around the Michigan state capitol.
And rightly so. It has garnered millions of views, and deserves to be watched half a dozen times by any Democrat who wonders how to improve their side’s morale and prospects for the November midterms. (We can watch it again here).
Right now, though, I want to take a few minutes to highlight some things McMorrow did not say, along with underlining some of what she did.
Note she tore the hide off her antagonist’s slanderous fund appeal (which called her a pro-pedophile groomer and more. Yet McMrrow’s reply used almost none of the jargon that clutters up so many DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) “trainings” and “anti-racism” diatribes. (Word to the wise.)
The speech also differed from the standard fare in that McMorrow’s aim was true: she wasn’t guilt-tripping that mythical group, “white people,” and skipped the cliche of “white supremacy.” She went directly after those, like Theis, who peddle hate and marginalization.
This was smart because: A. MAGA haters aren’t all “white”; and B. whites, even the more imperfect ones, are not all haters.
Further, McMorrow controlled her rage, and directed it at the behavior, not the person, which made it the more effective: she denounced Theis’s “hollow hateful scheme (not her hollow hateful soul — which is what I might well have said, giving in to lower ad hominem reflexes).
Next, McMorrow didn’t answer the attack on her character and religion by shouting “Liar!” which would have been fully justified. Instead, she skillfully used the example of skipping services to join her mother at the soup kitchen — and thereby paraphrased Jesus (in Matthew 25) about feeding the hungry as a form of true religious service.
And she drove home the point that for her “Christianity and faith was about . . . doing what we can to be of service to others, especially people who are marginalized, targeted, and who had less, often unfairly.”
And here she also did use a couple of the familiar expressions, but with extra force. She named the duty of “recognizing our privilege and blessings” and using them to offer “allyship to try to right the wrongs and fix injustice in the world.”
Note that she said “privilege,” not the shopworn, divisive “white privilege”; because after all, there are Americans of many colors who have “privilege” of wealth, high position or influence. They can (and many do) use this to walk as “allies” and help “right the wrongs.”
McMorrow kept to this rhetorical high road in rejecting the talking point that eight year olds who hear about slavery are being taught to hate themselves or their country. She called this drive “absolute nonsense,” and “performative nonsense,” both of which were more pungent and potent than the profanities I would likely have sunk into.
Yet her most adroit move for me was when she went from declaring that “No one in this room is responsible for slavery,” right to the challenging twist that “each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history.” That had me ready to jump out of my chair and cheer.
This move avoided the trap too many DEI or “= anti-racism” programs fall into, of pointing backward and laying on the guilt, rather than using the truth of the past, painful as much of it is, as the springboard to calling for an affirmative future of hope and joint work for justice. She was downright brilliant.
So was her prelude to peroration that we “cannot let hateful people . . . deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives.” (There could have been more of that, but her time was limited.)
Then, the smashing finish: “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.”
[I know the transcript has that final burst as one sentence. But this is the way I heard it. Each word ricocheted.]
Note that McMorrow called no one a “racist” or “white supremacist,” even while naming and excoriating their racist behaviors. But she didn’t need to as she pounded her points into the bullseye, one after the other.
She was not catering to anyone’s “fragility.” Her tactical sense was sophisticated throughout. Minimizing DEI buzzwords showed McMorrow was not speaking to the self-absorbed woke echo chamber, but to the larger majority. It also showed that a powerful takedown can be built with “ordinary” language — indeed, it enhanced its power. She did speak once of facing “systemic racism,” which is indeed a real thing, even if it has often been made into an ineffective buzzword by overuse. Nor was there any mention of CRT, which would only have given Theis an opening for more deflecting talking points.
And not least: she packed it all into five minutes, the current American attention span.
I don’t know what the pollsters will say about whether McMorrow’s speec would pass the acid test of “moving the needle” and drawing voters to the Dem side. But I agree with veteran Dem consultant James Carville that mastering it — not just the words but the “music,” should be central to the preparation for every serious Democratic candidate for office this year — and for the next round after that as well.
PS. Has anyone talked to McMorrow about running for president? Or at least the Senate?