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Why are Republicans so concerned about “grooming”?

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Ron DeSantis. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

As a result, the American right explodes enough accusations of sexual “grooming” against its political opponents.

Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, used the term last month to defend the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. “If you’re against the anti-grooming bill,” she tweeted, “you’re probably a groomer or at least not speaking out against the grooming of 4-8 year olds.” Rod Dreher, who writes to The American Conservative, recently tossed the term “perverse” Disney for its (belated) opposition to the new law, and called the Democrats “the party of child mutilators and kidnappers.” And MAGA socket American greatness Monday printed a broadside against “Groomer Fragility”.

“Not a very nice word, that’s for sure,” wrote the Greatness American author. “But the right must decide: do we prefer to play nice with perverts very sexually interested in our children? Or do we prefer to defend the innocence of childhood against the societal forces that seek to mutilate small children for political purposes ?”

It’s hard to know how much of this is sincere hysteria and how much it’s ugly, McCarthyist politics. Mainly the latter, probably: in its normal usage, “groomer” suggests a sexual predator, carefully preparing its prey for aggression. But Dreher — who has long been obsessed with the rise of gay and trans identities in American culture — says it’s not really what he means.

“I think it takes on a bit of a broader meaning: an adult who wants to separate children from a normative sexual and gender identity, inspire confusion in them, and turn them against their parents and all the normative traditions and institutions of society,” he wrote last week. “It may not be specifically to prepare them for sexual activity, but it is certainly to prepare them to adopt a sexual/gender identity that contradicts the norm.”

Maybe – maybe – that’s it he means. Most Americans will hear the term, however, and understand that it means something far more violent than “encouraging children to question their sexuality and the church.”

This misunderstanding is almost certainly intentional. Accusations of pedophilia and child rape are outdated in today’s Republican Party. In 2020, Trump shared a tweet falsely accusing Biden of being a pedophile. Karl Rove reportedly inspired a similar whisper campaign during a court campaign in Alabama in the 1990s. Sometimes the ugliness is overt, as during the QAnon conspiracy theory that led, in part, to the 6 January. And sometimes it’s a little more subtle, like with Republicans accusing Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on child predators.

These accusations and rumors were false, unfair and ugly, and just another piece of performative politics. The goal is not to protect children. It is to weaponize concerns about their security in the service of conservative political power.

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