The new magic word is "groomer"
It seems terminally online conservatives have found themselves a new word to bludgeon opponents with.
Finding magic words to call opponents isn’t new and isn’t restricted to conservatives, of course. It’s common for a certain sort of leftist to call anyone to the right of Noam Chomsky a “Nazi.” Republicans, meanwhile, have been calling anyone to the left of Pat Buchanan “socialists” for decades.
Trouble is, it’s not Morning in America anymore. The Soviet Union, like Ronald Reagan, is long dead, and with them both rests any realistic fears of the Communist International subverting our culture and institutions. Pointing at political opponents and claiming they’ll make Red Dawn a reality feels every bit as realistic as the remade Red Dawn’s North Korean invasion of eastern Washington. If you absolutely must have a bogeyman to make your point, it’s best if your bogeyman still inspires fear and terror in your audience.
Oh sure, socialists still exist — they’re just kind of silly, for the most part (a lot like libertarians, in fairness). It’s a little difficult to maintain moral panic over the incipient socialist takeover of the United States when you’re also laughing at their sensitivity to sensory overload and gendered language. At some point, there must be a practical limit to cognitive dissonance — you can either tell yourself that socialists are hypersensitive college-aged snowflakes who melt down when you call a group of people “guys”, or you tell yourself that socialists are using George Soros’ money to rewire your children’s genitalia, but it’s impossible for anyone to keep both ideas in their head simultaneously. Even 1984’s Winston Smith couldn’t be tortured into squaring that circle.
Think about it — you feel threatened and powerless to resist people who get anxious when they hear clapping? As the youths might say, “Weird flex but okay.”
That’s why conservatives need a new magic word.
For a bit, conservatives thought they had something with Critical Race Theory. The recipe started simply enough: Take some overwrought and purely performative gestures made in the general direction of anti-racism, like San Francisco’s since-rescinded school renaming plan, then use each of them in an exercise of partisan pointillism to demonstrate how the Radical Left, empowered by the ideology of Critical Race Theory, is weaponizing America’s guilt over its racist past to erase even the parts of America’s founding mythology most people actually like — or, at worst, wish we’d do a better job of living up to. Since it’s easy to pick instances of administrative lunacy when you’re searching for samples in a grab bag of our country’s 10,000 or so school districts, conservatives would never run out of material.
There were, with the benefit of hindsight, two problems with pointing at anything conservatives didn’t like and labeling it as “Critical Race Theory”.
First, a lot of what conservatives identified as “Critical Race Theory”, like San Francisco’s aforementioned school renaming plan, was identified by most liberals and progressives as rank incompetence instead of some arbitrary culture war hill to die on. Sure, the proposed justifications for the incompetence might have sounded progressive at first glance (at least until someone found out one of the San Francisco school board members used racial slurs against Asian-Americans), but everyone knows incompetent people will justify their actions with just about any old ideology they find lying on the floor if it lets them continue to remain incompetent for a while longer.
Just ask Michele Fiore.
Second, conservatives cared far more about the fight over Critical Race Theory than their opponents ever did. Call someone a Critical Race Theorist and they might take it as a compliment — I certainly wouldn’t mind being smart enough to be thought of as a “theorist.” The only damage incurred by incorrectly labeling something as “Critical Race Theory,” meanwhile, is you sound temporarily confused and possibly a little racist. It certainly didn’t hurt the 1619 Project any to be placed under the umbrella of Critical Race Theory — that just let liberals know it was annoying the right people.
Calling someone a racist, by contrast, is exactly the sort of insult conservatives have been looking for since both the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Pat McCarran’s Senate Internal Security Subcommittee stopped blacklisting people for being alleged socialists. There are consequences for being identified as a racist. They’re not pleasant. Consequently, people care about being called a racist.
Get successfully and publicly labeled as a racist and the best possible outcome is you have to spend the rest of your political life surrounded by miserable “groypers” who invite you to events they schedule for Hitler’s birthday in the hopes you’ll inspire one of them to become the next Christchurch shooter. If you’re lucky, all you’ll lose is your ability to post on mainstream social media sites (Gab will let you post whatever racist screeds you want, of course, but then you have to spend the rest of your internet life with the sort of people who post on Gab). If you’re less lucky, you might lose your job, your spouse, maybe even your friends.
Of course, it’s a little hard for conservatives to call liberals racists. Not that they don’t try anyway, of course — the inherent “reverse racism” of “Critical Race Theory” was part of the sales pitch, and, as San Francisco’s recently recalled board members nicely demonstrated, there are some legitimately racist corners of progressive thought worth criticizing if you know where to look. Still, it’s a little difficult to do that and simultaneously act like the sort of people who think Nevada’s First Lady is in thrall to the Chinese Communist Party (because, you see, the Ely-born Nevada native is ethnically Chinese) are on the same side without it coming across as perhaps a little disingenuous.
Luckily, for a darkly facetious definition of the word, the miserable “groypers” of 4Chan and the retired housewives of QAnon converged on a solution: Call anyone who disagrees with you a pro-pedophile groomer.
Nobody, regardless of political affiliation, wants to be labeled as a pro-pedophile groomer, after all — being successfully labeled as such is the closest thing our society has to a scarlet letter. Taking advantage of children, especially for sexual satisfaction, is among the most morally heinous crimes our society recognizes. Our laws regarding such behavior reflect that — oftentimes to the point of absurdity, like when one prosecutor charged teenaged girls in Pennsylvania for “sexual abuse of children” because they sent (“distributed”) nude photos of themselves (as minors) to their similarly teenaged boyfriends (who were also minors). Luckily for the teens, that specific case was later overturned.
At the same time, it’s also undeniable that adults in positions of authority routinely groom teens (or even younger children) for their personal sexual satisfaction — and many of us have seen this grooming in action. When I started high school, for example, a teacher was arrested for repeatedly raping a student; he was later sentenced to life. Toward the end of my freshman year, my history teacher, who was also the girl’s basketball team coach, had sex with one of his players — he had the temerity to claim that he, a 25-year-old man, was taken advantage of by the 17-year-old student. Then there was my senior year, when a substitute teacher was convicted of transmitting HIV to one of my classmates while an English teacher was charged with multiple counts of sexual misconduct with a minor (he later pled guilty to one of the charges and paid a modest fine).
Given all of that, it’s no surprise that parents, like myself, might be a bit concerned about grooming and sexual abuse — we know it’s happening because we saw it happen over and over and over and over again when we were kids. It comes as no surprise, then, that politicians are trying to leverage those legitimate concerns to further their own agendas.
Trouble is, the agendas of the people throwing the word “groomer” around have nothing to do with protecting my former classmates, or our children, from predatory teachers.
Take perennial political loser Adam Laxalt, for example. As Nevada Current’s Hugh Jackson pointed out, Laxalt doesn’t seriously think Ketanji Brown Jackson is a “pedophile apologist” — he just thinks that if he amateurishly copies Sen. Hawley’s (R-Missouri) near-libelous talking points, he can also follow the same attorney general-to-senator path Hawley took. To his extremely limited credit, though — and I cannot stress how faint the praise I’m damning him with here — at least threatening to throw anyone with a federal sex crime conviction into a dungeon and throwing away the key has some potential logical relation to reducing actual sex crimes. If federal sex crime sentencing guidelines actually had any connection to the harms experienced by their victims, he might even be on to something.
The rest of his political allies, however, have considerably more ambitious and less helpful goals.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) announced that she sees the existence of trans women as ipso facto pedophilia. Even that statement, however, is downright moderate compared to the conservative thinkers who are trying to redefine “grooming” and “pedophilia” away from adults abusing their power and authority to have sex with children — away from adults actually harming victims, in other words — and towards verbally acknowledging gay people exist.
No, seriously, that’s it — it’s apparently “grooming” now to acknowledge that gay people exist in fiction, if a child watches it. Go read Breitbart if you don’t believe me.
I don’t want to dismiss their point completely out-of-hand, though. Given how many of Disney’s classic stories from my childhood revolved around male princes delivering lifelong romance by kissing unconscious princesses without their consent, I wonder what behaviors I and my classmates were groomed by Disney to find acceptable?
I agree with the Claremont Institute about this much: There is, indeed, a problem with entitlement to other people’s kids. That sense of entitlement, however, doesn’t belong to gay or trans people who just happen to be gay and trans in public and talk about their lives with the same level of earnest transparency straight cisgendered folks like myself do.
It belongs to Ohio legislators, who seek to prevent students in both public and private schools from talking about gay people. It belongs to legislators across the country passing bills which explicitly prevent parents from providing gender-affirming care for their children, should they ask for it. It also belongs to Republican gubernatorial candidates in this state who think it should be up to the Governor’s Mansion, not parents or children, to decide whether transgender children should should get to participate in boy’s or girl’s sports.
That sense of entitlement to other people’s kids doesn’t end there, though. It most certainly belongs to actual groomers and pedophiles in positions of power and privilege. It belongs to the likes of Roy Moore and quite probably Rep. John Rose (R-Tennessee). It belongs to Tennessee legislators, who want to give pedophiles an obstacle-free path to marry their child brides.
It definitely belonged to at least four of the teachers I went to high school with.
I’m not an expert on grooming or pedophilia. But I’ve been in the same room as groomers and pedophiles, and I’ve been in the same room as gay and transgender people, and they were different people. Being straight and cisgendered didn’t make a few high school teachers groomers — going to work with a sense of entitlement for the bodies of their students because they felt a tingle in their pants did that. Why being gay or transgender would somehow change that calculus escapes me.
What doesn’t escape me, however, is who benefits by redefining grooming and pedophilia away from child sexual abuse and towards literally anything else — the people doing the grooming and the politicians pandering from the groomers’ votes.
David Colborne ran for office twice and served on the executive committees for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now an IT manager, a registered nonpartisan voter, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].