Given enough time, political expedience, and need fore more culture war fuel, everything – every single thing – on the right-wing fringe will be absorbed into the Republican mainstream.
But not even I, with cynicism dripping from every pore, under no illusions about the extent of the right's ends-justify-the-means, scorched earth approach to politics, thought the whole Democrats-are-pedophiles thing would be subsumed by Republican politics. I thought – quite naively, it turns out – labeling political opponents as child predators was a charge that would remain on the dangerous fringes – the ever-expanding QAnon wing of the Republican Party.
This is different than the other malicious forms of bad faith the right has unleashed against the American center and left during my lifetime. They used to say the libs were in bed with Russian communists. Then the left was coordinating with Middle Eastern terrorist groups and rooting for their success against U.S. troops and the eventual overthrow of the American government by guerrilla fighters in pickup trucks. It was almost funny.
That all seems tame compared to this onslaught of accusations that mainline Democratic politicians are either supporting the sexual "grooming" of young people, or do the grooming themselves.
It's as wicked and sick and twisted as anything that's bubbled up into the conservative mainstream during the Republican Party's open-armed embrace of fascism, its steady transformation into a champion of illiberalism, following their favorite Eastern European autocrats who insist the time of multicultural democracy has come and gone.
The right's "grooming" attack has spared no one. You'd almost expect this corroded version of the Republican Party to level claims of pedophilia against high-ranking congressional Democrats and the Democratic president. But state-level Democrats – even town and city-level Dems – have been smeared as child predators over the past year for supporting LGBTQ rights, advocating for fact-based sex education in schools, and defending the existence of transgender students.
I would guess very few conservative politicians actually believe liberals are part of a secret cabal of pedophiles. So yes, it's all in bad faith, this pretending to battle against the forces of Satan as a way to fire up a base that might otherwise give up on the GOP as its conduit for cultural domination. This bad faith is different from other odious forms of Republican bad faith when one asks oneself: What would you want to do with someone who sexually "groomed" or assaulted your child, or a child you know?
There are only two answers, and maybe it depends on your mood: You would want to imprison the pedophile, or you would want to kill the pedophile. There is no third answer.
This bad-faith attack is genocidal in nature. Pretending the American left and LGBTQ folks are grooming and sexually exploiting kids is a recipe for murder, for the justified killing of those evil and brazen enough to participate in such a sickening scheme against innocent children. This bad faith will quickly harden into calls for mass slaughter. It already has in some corners of conservative politics.
I don't think Republican leaders will realize what they've unleashed until it's too late. Convincing tens of millions of alienated, fearful, spiteful Americans that their enemies are in fact child sex fiends is the perfect way to dehumanize the opposition – dehumanization being the first and most crucial step in a genocidal campaign.
(I think the term "genocide" is largely misunderstood and intentionally simplified into a dictatorial put-them-against-the-wall political strategy. Genocide, per the United Nations, includes "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Genocide isn't unique to wartime. It can, according to the UN, happen "in the context of a peaceful situation," legally and with the normalcy of well-dressed men and women passing laws in ornate state capital buildings. Anyone paying even passing attention to America's political environment will read this definition of genocide and understand that trans people are the target of a nationwide genocidal campaign.)
Deploying the Democrats-are-groomers line of attack – borrowing from QAnon's belief that Donald Trump was sent from God to break up an international child sex predator ring – might be politically convenient for Republicans who find themselves in tough midterm election races this fall. It could be the nuclear option for Republican candidates who would like to (rightfully) bash their Democratic opponent over the head with sky-high gas prices and rising interest rates and inflation with no end, but would not hesitate to label their opponent a pedophile if push comes to shove.
We're six months out from the midterms and Republicans are already blasting out fundraising emails that plead with supporters to send cash if they want to defeat the pedophile Democrat running in November. No matter what Mitch McConnell or other Republican leaders say this fall, the Democrats-as-pedos smear will be central to the Republican Party's midterm pitch, and the call for genocide – against LGBTQ Americans and their backers – will reach a fever pitch, and will lead to mass violence.
I'm Just A (Genocidal) Bill
The groundwork for genocide against the LGBTQ community – particularly trans folks – has begun in earnest. Bills introduced with no other intention but to persecute transgender human beings have passed easily through Republican-majority state legislatures and have been gleefully signed by Republican governors.
In Texas, Child Murderer Governor Greg Abbott didn't wait for the legislature to act. He took it upon himself to direct the state's genocide against trans people, telling the state's Family and Protective Services to investigate all trans children and prosecute their parents as child abusers and declaring any doctor who prescribes puberty-blocking drugs or performs gender confirmation surgeries for transgender minors will be deemed a child abuser. This, of course, is steeped in bad faith. Trans people are provably happier and less prone to suicide when they are able to properly transition. Even if Abbott knew that, he wouldn't care.
Abbott didn't stop there, naturally: He told Texans it's their "duty to report" transgender kids to the Texas Gestapo or risk losing their jobs. This includes doctors, daycare workers, teachers, employees at reproductive healthcare facilities (the few that still exist in Texas), and juvenile detention facility workers. These professionals have to act fast too: Abbott gave them a 48-hour deadline for reporting trans kids and the families to the proper authorities.
A judge stepped in and issued an injunction against Abbott's order, as if the judiciary has any control over how Republicans govern. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made it crystal clear that he would continue the state's campaign against transgender children despite the injunction. That's the advantage of refusing to acknowledge democratic norms: There are no more rules with which to abide.
The use of government power to end transgenderism in the United States is hardly isolated to a handful of legislatures ruled by the nation's most radical, hateful conservatives. There are a raft of anti-trans bills circulating (and passing) through Republican-held state legislatures – legislation guaranteed to be copied by likeminded legislative bodies in the coming months and years.
This is how the Republican Machine works: Jam through a radical piece of legislation, find a federal judge who will sign off on the bad-faith basis of the bill, bank on Supreme Court conservatives turning a blind eye, and watch as the policy spreads across the country like a virus with no cure. They've done it with abortion, they've done it with guns, they've done it with gerrymandering, they've done it with laws designed to crush political opposition (including bills that legalize the murder of BLM activists).
State legislatures are said to be "laboratories of democracy," exciting and necessary venues for exploring new policy ideas that would never be considered on the national level until they work locally. Under Republican domination since the 2010 midterm elections, state legislatures have been transformed from laboratories into Leatherface's dank, bloody basement in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. State legislative bodies controlled by Republicans have become places where humanity's worst instincts have been set free, where democratic norms are eviscerated by the handful, power is cemented, racial and sexual minorities are stripped of their rights, and anyone who dares get in the way is crushed.
Legislation that would have been unthinkable even fifteen years ago passes through these legislatures with ease – even bills legalizing the sexual assault of children.
Ohio Republicans recently signed off on a bill that would allow the state to conduct genital exams on female athletes suspected of being trans. The nightmare policy would likely lead to thousands of young Ohio athletes submitting to invasive exams if they want to play for their school's softball or basketball or soccer team. The bill allows anyone – from a deranged parent hoping to eliminate competition for their kid to the most ardent anti-LGBTQ activist – to raise objections to a female's participation in girls sports. Such an objection could lead to the sort of exam that has been deemed "medical rape." Girls would have a clear choice: Submit to an invasive test or quit the team. It's the sort of development that makes me think the cringey Resistance Libs who dressed up as handmaids in the early years of the Trump administration were right all along.
If all politics is projection, one has to wonder about Republicans' obsession with children's sexuality. It's as disturbing as it is instructive to understanding the modern conservative movement, which is obsessed with the sexual organs of minors.
I've spent many evening walks and quiet moments in my office pondering how the left could use its own bad faith to push back against the hysterical and growing anti-trans movement (my quiet moments are often loud and horrible between my ears).
Probably you've seen footage of Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow forcefully countering her Republican opponent's charge that McMorrow "grooms and sexualizes kindergartners." It was a viral moment – viewed more than 1.1 million times – because it was the first public instance of a Democrat getting fucking mad about being labeled a child sex abuser.
"I sat on it for a while, wondering why me?" McMorrow said, her voice quaking with fury. "And then I realized—because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme. Because you can't claim that you're targeting marginalized kids in the name of 'parental rights' if another parent is standing up to say 'no.' ... This same rhetoric is now being used to attack an already marginalized community, particularly LGBTQ kids to deflect and scapegoat so that people are so mad and taking out their anger on gay kids."
McMorrow's retort was excellent. No notes, as the kids are saying online.
But what if the left took the pushback one step further? What if, instead of simply calling out Republicans for casually accusing their opponents of pedophilia, Democrats turned around the attack. Maybe it would look something like this:
I had never even heard the word "grooming" before my Republican opponent mentioned it in her fundraising email. I had to Google it. And when I did, I was disgusted and horrified. Why does my opponent know so much about the sexual grooming of children? Why is this term in her lexicon? Should the authorities talk to her children about her history and interest in grooming? What about her husband? Does he have any history of grooming or pedophilia? I think we as a society need to take this very seriously and investigate these government officials talking incessantly about child sex abuse. We should do our due diligence and ensure children are safe from my Republican opponent. I take no pleasure in saying so.
Again, this is a full embrace of bad faith. We know (or we're almost certain) this person is not a pedophile. That doesn't matter. Raising these questions in the minds of voters, however, might make Republicans shut the fuck up about grooming.
Saying The Violent Part Out Loud
Attempted suicide among trans and gender nonconforming people in the United States sits at about 40 percent, astronomical compared to the general population's 5 percent attempted suicide rate. In 2020, 44 transgender people were murdered in the US because they were trans.
Nearly half of trans respondents to a national survey said they had been "verbally harassed" over the past year because they are trans. One in ten were attacked in public.
Data on transgender discrimination and hate crimes is terribly scarce and, at best, unreliable. The above statistics paint a (very) rough picture of the horrors trans folks endure for being themselves, for expressing who they are and loving who they love. Certainly this vitriol would exist without the right's current trans panic moment, but the right's language around transgender issues – namely, the existence of trans human beings – practically invites violence against the community.
I could write ten thousands words on Republicans' murderous intentions against transgender people. Instead, I've found a good summation of the right's genocidal impulses against transgender people. Here's Robert Foster, a former GOP Mississippi lawmaker and a one-time gubernatorial candidate:
You know as well as I do that Foster is speaking for hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of Americans. Probably that's why he felt empowered to post such a caustic comment on Twitter. People agree! More and more are saying so! Do you really want to fuck around and find out if Foster and his ilk are all talk?
Then there's Dillon Awes, a Christian preacher who used a recent Sunday sermon to say every gay American "should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head." This, per Awes, is what God wants. And God gets what God wants.
The call for trans genocide isn't isolated to the US; it's a through line in reactionary politics across the world. Helen Joyce, an anti-trans feminist in the UK, went ahead and said what is rarely vocalized: That the aim of the anti-transgender movement is to eliminate trans people from the face of the earth.
"We have to try to limit the harm, and that means reducing or keeping down the number of people who transition," Joyce said last week in an interview, acknowledging that the movement would aim for institutional capture to achieve its aims since the public widely opposes policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people. "Every one of those people is a person who's been damaged ... and every one of those people is basically a huge problem to a sane world. ... Every one of them is a difficulty."
In the face of such repulsive and unhinged hate, transgender people need unapologetic defenders in the public square – social media – and in government. The right cannot be allowed to turn its murderous bad faith into public policy or we're going to witness a real-time genocidal campaign without borders. There will be no state that can defend its trans population from the terror campaign to come if Republicans seize power in the midterms and the 2024 election. The genocide, in other words, will not be limited to Texas and Ohio and Idaho and Florida and other Republican strongholds. It will become national policy with the help of federal judges installed by the right's tireless and highly successful judicial shadow regime. At that point there is no turning back, no rewinding the tape to a more sane discourse around LGBTQ rights, no cooling the temperature among people who want blood and want it now.
The dangers of our anti-trans moment are manifest. All you have to do is look around. Bad-faith politics turned into a good-faith genocidal public policy will take hold if we let it.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13 for maximum alienation.