The Right's Fretting Over 'Child Exploitation' Is Just More Bad-Faith Politics

The Right's Fretting Over 'Child Exploitation' Is Just More Bad-Faith Politics

The best bad-faith arguments balance on a thesis whose agreement is universal.

Lets say – god forbid – you are a lobbyist working for an outfit with interests in destroying our planet. Your goal is, of course, to delay, obstruct and damage legit climate science that has been proven for decades.

These methods will vary, of course. Some days, you’ll say incontrovertible evidence of climate collapse is actually unsettled science that needs more data and time. Other days, you’ll both-sides the problem; a key tenet of bad faith is the precious “muh freedom of speech," which can easily be extended to pissing out a garbage argument on CNN, in the New York Post, or whatever other media outlet has a common interest in strangling our earth, one acre and species at a time. Still other times, you’ll simply call an audible and use an ad hominem attack.

Which brings us to current cause celebré of the American right: The sexual exploitation of children.

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To a person, everyone can agree that exploiting children is the worst thing a human can do – grotesque and unforgivable in every way. It is a rampant and horrifyingly real issue with no obvious solution. It is for this reason that child exploitation can be so easily leveraged as a bad faith argument against the entire LGBTQ+ community and the left in general.

It’s vicious, cynical, disgusting. And it works.

I give you Exhibit A from the new godfather of the American right wing:

Our brave defender of free speech 

At first glance – and second, and third – there isn't much to this tweet other than Elon Musk cleaning up Twitter in a way everyone agrees is a problem that needs to be fixed. Unless you’re a nihilist of the worst variety who think Elon is a pedo soliciting child pornography, there is no other way to read this other than straightforward crowd-sourced do-gooding. It takes a village, right?

Let’s dive deeper. Notice the verbiage: It isn't “child pornography” but “child exploitation.” Small difference, and really, it opens replies up to anything that doesnt quite meet the “pornography” standard, but is problematic and needs to be purged, regardless of our vague Supreme Court decision opinions.

But just how much this single word choice mean? After all, what is child exploitation?

Pornography, absolutely. Sex trafficking, of course. Religious cults? Absolutely! Forced labor, extreme weather conditions, unfair labor practice, poverty, homelessness; yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes – though here’s where the pushback begins, from the right, of course. Gender politics? Funny you should ask…

A word about gender. Is it child exploitation to acknowledge and support a young person who has discovered that their gender isn't in line with their biological sex at birth? What about a young person – under 18 years old – who has come to the realization that they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community? And what about the parents who openly support their child in their coming-of-age? Raise your hand if you think this would be considered “child exploitation” by the Elon Bros happily touting “free speech absolutism” on Twitter.

Last summer, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested taking legal action against parents who bring their children to drag shows and gay pride events. Shortly thereafter, the far-right “Don't Say Gay” legislation upended the entire educational program, removing the so-called “sexualization” of children.

Equating the acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth to child exploitation is key to the right’s bad-faith argument. The right doesn’t give a damn about children. How does suppressing men dressing in women’s clothing protect children? The same children whose number one cause of death in the United States is firearms? The same firearms protected so forcefully by the same people claiming that a child’s own orientation or gender is a threat. This heartless shunning doesn’t protect children from any exploitation other than self-actualization, and erodes half a century of the country's civil rights movement.

That disenfranchisement is the end goal. Removing rights, intimidating voters, purging a new generation of gay closeted children. The demonization of an oppressed class that doesn’t typically vote for Republicans is the goal. As always, this is about demographics, this is about votes, this is about power. This is about Making America Scared Again.

Elon Musk knows this country is changing, and changing fast. Ten years ago, Roe was the law of the land and President Obama magically changed his opposition to same-sex marriage. The tide has shifted, and the bad faith formula of child exploitation is a white knight wet dream that Musk is only too glad to exploit, with his transparent transgender bigotry. That Twitter post, that innocent looking tweet with which everyone can nod in agreement, is a bad-faith Trojan Horse of transphobia.