Manic Monday Reads: This is AmericaPosted: November 28, 2022
Good Day Sky Dancers!
The GOP is the party of projection. They gaslight us all the time. It’s not all that ironic that I got to use Merriam-Webster’s word of the year at the top of this post, as reported by PBS Nightly News. You’ll see my point soon enough.
“Gaslighting” — behavior that’s mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful — is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
Lookups for the word on merriam-webster.com increased 1,740 percent in 2022 over the year before. But something else happened. There wasn’t a single event that drove significant spikes in curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year.
The gaslighting was pervasive.
“It’s a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it actually came as a surprise to me and to many of us,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s unveiling.
“It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” he said.
Merriam-Webster’s top definition for gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time, that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
More broadly, the dictionary defines the word thusly: “The act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”
Gaslighting is a heinous tool frequently used by abusers in relationships — and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within a broader family unit and among friends. It can be a corporate tactic, or a way to mislead the public. There’s also “medical gaslighting,” when a health care professional dismisses a patient’s symptoms or illness as “all in your head.”
Despite its relatively recent prominence — including “Gaslighter,” The Chicks’ 2020 album featuring the rousingly angry titular single — the word was brought to life more than 80 years ago with “Gas Light,” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton.
It’s also a great movie from 1944.
Gas light is a 1944 American psychological thriller film directed by George Cukor, and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury in her film debut. Adapted by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston from Patrick Hamilton‘s play Gas Light (1938), it follows a young woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is descending into insanity.
We lost the late great Angela Lansbury this year on October 11th. I loved her in The Manchurian Candidate, which is also apropos viewing to accompany the last few years. It was filmed in 1962, But Gaslight was filmed during the same period that Rachel Maddow’s Ultra covered when many Republicans in the country became enamored with Hitler. Everything old becomes new again.
One of the strangest narratives and most deadly that Right Wing Republicans have come up with is that the Democratic party is rampant with “groomers” and pedophiles. This has primarily been used to attack the GLBTX community and to suggest anything that talks to the love that dares not speak its name focuses on children. This conspiracy really took off a right-wing conspiracy disinformation campaign, #PizzaGate. It has its own hashtag and just never goes away. Here’s a little review of its relevance from the SPLC. “‘There’s nothing you can do’: The Legacy of #PizzaGate.” The story is from last year.
The Washington City Paper, a small D.C. outlet, ran a story called “Alt Right Conspiracy Theorists Obsess Over Comet Ping Pong” on Nov. 6, 2016. A phone call requesting comment for the article marks the moment that restaurateur James Alefantis’ life changed.
The online disinformation campaign now known as #Pizzagate, which extremists blasted into mainstream visibility on such sites as Twitter and Reddit, targeted Alefantis with a storm of harassment and lies, falsely suggesting that liberal elites abused children in the basement of his pizza restaurant. The #Pizzagate fable ultimately inspired a man to drive across state lines from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to “save” fictitious victims. He fired a gun inside Comet Ping Pong in December 2016, when the restaurant was full of families eating lunch. Trolls continue to target Alefantis and his staff with harassment even now, as the event approaches its fifth anniversary.
Researchers of the far right still talk about #Pizzagate, but for different reasons: #Pizzagate influenced the politically charged disinformation campaigns that followed it in significant, often underreported ways. #Pizzagate helped birth the sprawling, pro-Trump conspiracy #QAnon, which in turn led to a number of violent crimes. #Pizzagate represents a watershed moment for Trump-era extremists, and its popularity united such figures as the actress Rosanne Barr with open neo-Nazis and, potentially, the Russian government. It can be viewed as a forerunner to the so-called Big Lie, wherein millions of Americans falsely came to believe that former President Trump won reelection in 2020 but liberal elites colluded to change the outcome.
Hatewatch published a detailed analysis of Twitter’s enabling of the far right on July 7. The analysis frequently references #Pizzagate due to the degree to which once-obscure extremists who pushed those lies went on to achieve fame on the website without ever facing consequences for their actions. Hard-right disinformation peddlers such as Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich and Cassandra Fairbanks, who hyped #Pizzagate on Twitter, also later used the site to push lies about the 2020 election in the runup to the violent insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. Twitter has enabled these figures for years and even recommended to readers Posobiec’s misleading content about the trial of Derek Chauvin, despite the sensitivity around the trial and his connections to the white supremacist movement.
A renewed moral panic, stoked by the far right and trickling into mainstream conservatism, has come on the heels of an abrupt shift in the fight for gay rights in America. Following the recent passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and a wave of other homophobic and transphobic legislation throughout the country, current right-wing rhetoric has focused on accusations of “grooming.” The term — which describes the actions an adult takes to make a child vulnerable to sexual abuse — is taking on a conspiracy-theory tone as conservatives use it to imply that the LGBTQ community, their allies, and liberals more generally are pedophiles or pedophile-enablers.
Attempting to reframe the controversial Florida law, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw described it as “the Anti-Grooming Bill” in early March, tweeting that if you’re against it, “you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” Those familiar with QAnon will recognize this bizarre leap in logic. Pushaw adopted language that QAnon conspiracy theory believers and the related #SaveTheChildren crusaders have used to imply that liberals are, if not pedophiles themselves, advocates of pedophilia.
This rhetoric has long existed among fringe conspiracy-theory-mongers and extremists, but Pushaw’s usage helped turn grooming into a mainstream conservative talking point.Fox News has run several segments devoted to pedophilia throughout March and April. During the same period, numerous Fox pundits began describing the behavior of parents and teachers who want to allow children to express their transgender identity as grooming; one Fox and Friends guest suggested children were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults,” while America Reports guest Charlie Hurt said affirmative care for trans children “goes beyond just predatory grooming” into “psychological torture.”
Accusations of pedophilia were also a refrain during the March 2022 confirmation hearings for new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. After Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) falsely accused Jackson of giving child pornographers unusually lenient sentences and “soft” treatment, other conservatives, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, ran with the idea that Jackson and anyone who supported her confirmation was supporting or sympathetic to pedophilia.
The result of this fear-mongering is grim: Vice reports that users of extremist right-wing websites like Patriot.win recently tried to publicize the address of a school superintendent who they claimed was “grooming” children. In March, the superintendent placed a school nurse on leave for allegedly making inappropriate statements on Facebook about a student who may have been receiving gender-affirming care.
Claiming the superintendent was “supporting leftist grooming in her schools” by implicitly protecting the welfare of a potentially trans student, one Patriot.win user wrote that she “needs to be executed by our judicial system.” Other users made violent references to hangings and gallows in response to various debates over trans identity. There’s concern that these online threats could lead to real-world physical violence; as Vice noted, many of the platforms pushing this current narrative are home to extremist communities, including some that were involved in planning the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Framing homosexuality as a wicked specter and queer people as pedophiles is one of the oldest narratives in the homophobic playbook; proponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and other recent anti-gay and anti-trans legal actions across the US have been all too happy to recycle it. Only now, due to the paranoiac tendency of the modern right wing, it’s also being expanded and applied to LGBTQ allies, to educators whose work gets caught in the cultural crossfire, and to liberals writ large.
One of the heroes of these freaks is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has whistled every dog whistle and pushed every possible law to support these false accusations and narratives. It is Gas Lighting. And, it’s odd that whenever we get into the history of any of these folks, we find their policies and lack of action endanger children. Living, breathing, sentient, feeling, and vulnerable children suffer under Republican regimes.So, I’ve taken quite a bit to set this up. No, it’s not the usual pedophile Republican pol or judge caught in the act. It’s Ron DeSantis’ own government doing it. “Innocence Sold: Florida’s foster system provides dangerous sex traffickers with easy access to vulnerable children.” This article is behind a strict paywall, so I will try to share it with you as much as possible. It is also a part of the South Florida Sentinel’s podcast series “Felonius Florida.” It’s the story of 15-year-old Sophie Reeder, who walked out of her bedroom one night 5 1/2 years ago and never returned.
Somebody knows what happened to Sophie Reeder. But not the police. Not her parents. Not the private investigators who tried to find her.
Despite powerful evidence that she fell into the hands of a sex trafficker, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s handling of her case diminished the chance she’d ever be found.
Sophie’s case was part of the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s year-long investigation into child sex trafficking, a vile crime that is relatively easy to get away with in Florida.
Sophie wasn’t a runaway, or a foster child, or an abused daughter, like many girls who fall under a predator’s sway. She was a middle-class girl with two parents who loved her — parents who had the means to help. Friends and family saw red flags, but no one realized quite what they were seeing.
Her case shows that sex trafficking is common, hiding in plain sight.
In Sophie’s cell phone, police found messages she sent a friend, discussing prices charged for commercial sex acts.
“There are so many cases in our local community, and the average person has no clue,” said John Rode, a former South Florida cop who has searched for Sophie for five years. “If I ask 10 people, ‘What is human trafficking?,’ most are going to say it’s a container on a ship, and there’s 50 Haitian people packed into the container like the movies. Most of the cases are just young runaway girls that get mixed up with the wrong person and sooner or later they can’t get out or they can’t be found.”
Although most of their stories aren’t told, children are reported missing every day in Florida. Last year, 2,166 kids were reported missing in Florida, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. All but 145 of them were found.
These children — runaways and other missing kids — are among the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, researchers have proven.
Their stories are eerily similar: a girl with low self-esteem meets an attentive older man. He may offer gifts, compliments, promises of a better life — or even love.
Sophie suffered from anxiety and depression. Many teens do. I was one of them.
It’s not just the institutions in governments like Ron Desantis that cause these inefficiencies. Their attitudes toward living, breathing children who are now subjected to school programs make them feel like outsiders. It also is a program that provides no solutions, no information, and no help. You’re on your own, kid.
And I will go there. This is from Salon. It’s also from last April, and I’m so sorry I missed reading all this then. It took Sophie’s story to get me to dig into it all. “So, Let’s Talk About Republicans and Sex Crimes. This seems like an appropriate moment.” Paging anyone that can prosecute Matt Gaetz! Floriduh pervert.
Because American politics are now just one, long, low-rent nightmare, Republican culture warriors have spent the past few weeks slandering their various enemies as being soft on pedophilia. For some time, this sort of raving was mostly confined to adherents of QAnon, the Trump-idolizing conspiracy cult that believes Democratic politicians and other elites are secretly operating a global child trafficking ring.
But a confluence of events has helped bring a version of it mainstream.
During the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in March, Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz attempted to smear the nominee by inaccurately claiming that she had a record of handing out unusually light sentences in cases where defendants were accused of viewing child pornography. The issue descended deeper into absurdity after three moderate Republicans voted to confirm Jackson this week and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—the walking id of MAGA-America—tweeted about them, saying “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile.”
Meanwhile, defenders of Florida’s new “don’t say gay” law, which strictly limits public school teachers’ ability to discuss LGBTQ people and issues in the classroom, began referring to the legislation as an “anti-grooming” bill—evoking the deeply homophobic idea that an adult would only talk about these topics with a child in order to prime them for abuse. After Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, called for the law to be repealed, conservative social media influencers and Fox News personalities like Laura Ingraham launched a wild crusade against the company accusing it too of being complicit in “grooming.”
This is all galling. But it’s especially rich considering that, of the two major parties, the GOP has many more notable and recent scandals involving the sexual abuse of minors and young students—as well as a recent track record of reacting to them with a shrug.
Let’s review some of that history …
In 2015, former Rep. Dennis Hastert, the longest-ever serving Republican speaker of the House, pleaded guilty to making illegal hush-money payments in order to cover up his history of sexually abusing high school wrestlers he had coached decades before.
“Nothing is more stunning than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence,” the judge said at his sentencing.
During and after the 2016 presidential race, among the dozens of women who accused former president Donald Trump of being a sexual predator were several contestants in the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, who reported that he barged into their dressing room while girls as young as 15 were changing. (Trump allegedly told them, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”)
His campaign denied the accusation, but CNN unearthed a 2005 Howard Stern interview where Trump bragged about walking into backstage dressing rooms at the pageants he ran.
During the 2018 midterms, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of preying on girls as young as 14 and 16; the New Yorker reported that his habit of trying to pick up high schoolers was so notorious that it actually got him banned from a local mall.
Also in 2018, Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s fiercest allies and a co-founder of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, became embroiled in a scandal over his time as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, where a team doctor named Richard Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, was found to have sexually abused more than 177 male student athletes.
An investigation commissioned by the university found that Strauss regularly used examinations as an excuse to grope and fondle the students, sometimes to the point of ejaculation; often ordered them to strip nude unnecessarily; and in two cases, attempted to perform oral sex. Numerous former wrestlers told reporters that Jordan was personally aware of the abuse during the early 1990s but chose to turn a blind eye. The Congressman simply denied having any knowledge of it—and suggested at least one of the accusers claiming otherwise was acting on a personal vendetta against him.
And finally, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is currently the subject of a literal sex-trafficking investigation, which is looking into whether he had sex with an underage 17-year-old girl, among other issues. (Greene is close with Gaetz, who denies the allegations, and has defended him.)
On Twitter, liberals have taken to rattling off this list of scandals—among others—in response to conservative accusations of grooming (in a somewhat apt turn of events, a former Republican National Committee staffer was sentenced for a child pornography conviction the same day Jackson was confirmed to the court).
Some have gone further, remarking that the GOP is particularly afflicted with a pedophilia problem. “Every accusation is a confession,” goes one popular refrain. (Some large social media accounts have been trying to make the phrase “pedocon” stick.)
So, the word gas lighting seems appropriate, don’t you think? There are many vulnerable populations in this country. Just think of our amazing backlog of testing rape kits! You can check the backlog in your own state at the link.
While the press fritters its print away on the psychosis of Elon Musk or the hapless pursuit to be Speaker of the House by Kevin, the pandemic continues. Women cannot get accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare. Voting Rights are being decimated. Folks are trying to vote in Georgia as we speak. We’ve got a few days past a mass shooting, and it goes out of the national consciousness that quickly. But, hey, that football game!
And the republican gaslighting and victim-blaming, and projection keep going on. Donald Trump meets with a White Supremacist, and Stephen Miller trots to the Capitol to speak to Kevin. Nobody presses a potential presidential candidate for the Republican Party on it. Lindsay Graham was omnipresent on the Sunday Talk shows at one time. Where is he now? Plus, why don’t they have a platform and a list of planned policies? We need a much more involved press to get to answers. I’m not sure if they just took Thanksgiving weekend off to watch football and eat turkey or what. But these things demand answers. And only a few regional newspapers with fewer reporters go after the stories about our community problems and solutions. The repeats of whatever on the new stations were maddening. Why all the time spent yammering on about clogged airports?
It’s more than just covering the bullets after they’ve torn through a nightclub, a second-grade classroom, or a place of worship. Why are our children so vulnerable? Why have we still not taken back the night? Who is following droughts all over the world? Check where big money goes, and you’ll find the answer. It goes from gun manufacturers to Republicans. It goes from Wall Street and Silicon Valley to Republicans. It goes from the Fossil Fuel Industry to Republicans. Everything old is new again.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?