What’s With the Sexual Obsessions of the Far Right?
Tucker Carlson’s video is only the latest example
For your consideration:
According to a recent poll, almost half of Republicans believe that Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking rings.
A new Tucker Carlson series called “The End of Men” discusses declining testosterone levels, testicle tanning, and the collapse of society followed by a rebirth led by “strong” and “resourceful” men. The video trailer for the series, released earlier this month, has gay and straight alike saying “that’s really gay.”
In other reporting, Carlson claims that COVID-19 vaccines “feminize” people and “emasculated” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and “weakened him as a man.”
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon talks admiringly of Mussolini’s “virility” and “fashion sense.”
“He has all that virility,” Steve Bannon told The Spectator of London. “He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that…
Former President Trump frequently uses rhetoric drenched in masculine connotations of strength, insult, and refusal to back down. Numerous articles have been written about his and the GOP’s “toxic masculinity.”
Certain parts of the far-right seem obsessed with sexuality. They sometimes frame political issues in gendered terms that puzzle political analysts and seem subtly (and in the case of Carlson’s video not so subtly) homoerotic. This obsession manifests itself in policy in various ways, among them, the wave of anti-LGBTQ laws working through GOP-led state legislatures ranging from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to anti-trans athlete bills in 10 states.
What the heck is going on?
Sexuality and sexual scandal have always been features of American politics. Since the founding, rumors and, at times, open secrets of infidelity, abound. However, from Thomas Jefferson’s fathering children with his slave Sally Hemmings, to JFK’s affairs, to Bill Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinski, most sexual scandals in our political history have been of a certain kind — heterosexual infidelity or sexual harassment between powerful men and women who are mostly in the shadows. It’s also been what I would call situational and specific — a male politician’s problematic sexual behavior becomes public and he weathers the political storm (e.g. Newt Gingrich) or doesn’t (e.g. Al Franken).
What seems to have changed in the last decade or so is that accusations of sexual impropriety have become more bizarre and more ongoing and generalized. It’s not just vanilla, man-woman infidelity, it’s more taboo; because infidelity is not enough to generate outrage anymore. The outrage comes from accusations of sexual predation on vulnerable children. And it’s not just Congressman John Q. Democrat, it’s all prominent Democrats. It’s not just a specific event, it’s ongoing.
So why is this happening?
Like most social and political behavior, the answer is probably a blend of multiple factors.
Political utility. Like any strategy in politics, it’s used if it works. And by works, I mean either it enhances loyalty in the base of supporters, or it demonizes the opposition, preferably both. Issues related to morality and children are powerful emotional motivators. And people make decisions (like voting) based on emotions even more so than intellect.
Social discomfort. Perhaps it’s a response to rapidly changing cultural norms on sexual issues. For example, public opinion on issues like gay marriage has changed dramatically in just two decades with a solid majority now supporting it. For some, this may be too much change, too fast.
Psychological undercurrents of right-wing ideology. This is where it gets trickier. It’s easy to play armchair psychologist and speculate on various theories about repressed sexual tensions, misogynistic tendencies, and/or patriarchal feelings within far-right thinking. However, I defer to more informed sources like the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and other experts. They report on a confluence of ancient anti-Semitic conspiracies involving children being kidnapped for blood rituals, modern-day QAnon conspiracies, and fundamentalist Christian thinking that likely pines for a return to traditional gender roles in defense of the family.
“…the alt-right has enlisted children in its full-spectrum defense of the traditional family. Gender-restrictive groups prey on our collective desire to protect children…By presenting themselves as ‘concerned adults’ with children’s wellbeing and safety, they appeal to a more moderate, nonreligious audience. This ‘defense of the family’ often conflates pedophilia with homosexuality.”
What’s tragic in the Right’s attempt to use pedophilia as a cover for attacks on the LGBTQ community is that it detracts from serious efforts to combat the real issue of sex trafficking of minors. It would seem like a natural fit and help Republicans gain credibility if they made high-profile efforts to combat the real issue. I don’t see it. IPS doesn’t either and suggests a compelling reason why:
“Because that would require an examination of some very embarrassing cases within its own ranks. Take the example of far-right Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, currently under investigation by the Justice Department for sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. Ralph Shortey, the chair of Trump’s Oklahoma campaign, is serving 15 years in prison for child sex trafficking. Would-be Senator Roy Moore, would-be congressman Ben Gibson, former Speaker of the House Denis Hastert, Trump Commerce Department official Adam Hageman, Republican digital strategist Ruben Verastigui, and so on: all have stood accused of pedophilia and/or child pornography.
So it appears that the obsession with sexuality by some on the far-right is a witch’s brew of long-standing cultural conspiracies, religious fundamentalism, and political expediency. Based on this it seems reasonable to conclude:
- These beliefs are deeply held, in the Republican mainstream (see the poll mentioned above) and absolutely crazy. And because of the first two issues, the last one doesn’t matter as much as you think it would when it comes to elections. It will be interesting, and potentially horrifying, to see how many GOP candidates use the anti-LGBT/pedophilia strategy in the 2022 midterms and win.
- We must remain vigilant in our defense not only of truth, but also our advocacy for institutions that protect the rights of those under attack. This not only includes the LGBTQ community but extends to others. Since children’s welfare is the pretext for Republican efforts to suppress LGBTQ legitimacy as a political strategy, organizations that affect children’s education are now under pressure. School boards have received a lot of attention in recent months but public library boards are also in the crosshairs.
- Tucker Carlson is a damaging, corrosive influence on our society but has an underlying point. Men are experiencing challenging times. The rapidly changing cultural norms I mentioned earlier may be causing some disorientation for men. It’s a topic worthy of honest discussion. But he’s using it for the basest political and bigoted purposes. Like child sex trafficking, a serious issue is being overwhelmed by a blizzard of politically motivated conspiratorial claptrap.