COMMENTARY

Republicans don't care about kids — just imaginary children

For all the talk about "groomers" and "pro-life," the GOP ignores — or exacerbates — threats against real children

Published May 25, 2022 1:10PM (EDT)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the latest mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas — which left 19 small children and two adults dead — Republicans are working through their usual playbook to buy time until the shooting fades from the headlines. So there's lots of "mental health" talk from the same politicians and pundits who want to gut our already paltry social services. And there's lots of whining about how the real victims here are Republicans being criticized for their sociopathic policies, and not the dead kids and their families. Lots of fantasizing about how the solution is a "good guy with a gun," even though multiple officers were on the scene and exchanged fire with the shooter before he entered the school, to no avail. (All these self-appointed gun experts of the GOP refuse to understand unarmed school teachers and 10-year-olds make easier targets than a shooter armed with an assault rifle.)

The script Republicans roll out is predictable and nonsensical. It's meant to be. Meaningless noise is a useful political tactic. It exhausts people, leaving them too demoralized to fight for a better world.

RELATED: Texas school shooting: The right responds to massacre by calling for more guns

As with the Sandy Hook shooting before it, the GOP strategy of burying the public's ability to muster outrage under a thick blanket of bullshit is harder than usual because this time the victims are little kids. But of course, there is no number of murdered little children that is too many for Republicans. Nothing will shake Republicans from their politically cynical allegiance to guns. Some — like Tucker Carlson of Fox News — seem downright stoked about the opportunity to use this shooting as grist for another self-pity party.

Make-believe children get all the concern. Real children don't matter at all.

The soullessness and contempt for humanity are only more illuminated by the fact that these are the same people who just spent months justifying abortion bans by glibly pretending to be "pro-life." Like every other pretext that spills out of Republican mouths, that too is a lie. Opposition to abortion rights is about gender and sexuality, as evidenced by the sprawling sexism that reaches every corner of conservativism. The contrast between the theatrical sentimentality over an embryo versus the lack of any true concern over actual child murder really drives home the point.


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Republicans only care about children that are imaginary. Real children have needs: Food, shelter, safety, emotional support, education, love. Imaginary children, however, want for nothing. The fictional threats to imaginary children are useful for political rhetoric and for bashing your opponents, with no real cost. Providing for real children cuts into resources Republicans would rather see spent on yacht improvements for their donor base. Keeping real children safe means embracing policies, like gun control, that offend the easily bruised egos of their voting base of child-men and their wives. 

The examples extend far beyond the melodramatic affection for the theoretical child seen in an embryo versus the indifference to the actual children gunned down in a classroom.

On Tuesday, before the shooting, Paul Waldman of the Washington Post wrote about Republicans ignoring the brutal report released over the weekend that chronicled decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Southern Baptist Convention. As Waldman notes, Republicans are forever talking about "their deep commitment to protecting children — particularly when it comes to the threat of sexual abuse." Preventing sexual abuse is invoked as the pretext for book bans and classroom talk acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people, even though there's no actual link between queer identities and sexual abuse. In QAnon and QAnon-influenced circles, false accusations of pedophilia are used to justify a violent hatred of Democrats. 

RELATED: Southern Baptist scandal: It's no coincidence that anti-abortion churches protect sexual abusers

But all of these threats to children — from blood-drinking Democrats to books that say "gay" — are entirely imaginary. As such, they get Republicans whipped into a frenzy. However the second that a threat to children is substantive — which is the case when it comes to sexual abuse in churches — there's silence. Make-believe children get all the concern. Real children don't matter at all. The cavalier use of the word "groomer" to insult LGBTQ people and their allies underscores this. No one who flings that word around actually cares about children being abused. In fact, by doing that, they're making life harder for real victims. And all the fake concern that LGBTQ rights somehow lead to child abuse? In the real world, LGBTQ kids are being abused because of Republican bigotry

They are using imaginary kids as a weapon to harm real kids. 

The same game is played out with the fake concerns over "critical race theory." Republicans love to go on and on about fictional curricula in imaginary classrooms where dreamed-up white kids are being told that they're personally responsible for systemic racism. In reality, the whole "critical race theory" hysteria is a hoax designed to give cover to a larger agenda meant to bully teachers into quitting, ban books, and ultimately, gut public education


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Needless to say, kids aren't being harmed by imaginary lessons in white guilt. But kids are being harmed by losing good teachers, good books, and access to a decent public education. This isn't just about Republicans caring more about fictional kids than real ones. They are using imaginary kids as a weapon to harm real kids. 

Of course, these are the same Republicans who, just recently, were demanding that President Joe Biden stop feeding infants in the care of the Border Patrol. The hostility to actual children doesn't get more concrete than calling for the literal starvation of children. 

RELATED: Salon investigates: The war on public schools is being fought from Hillsdale College

This shooting happened in the real world, to real children. The unfathomable nature of the horror is such that it actually makes a dark sort of sense that conservatives would like to look away. It probably is easier to focus on the fantasy dangers to imaginary children. Unfortunately, Republicans have an entire propaganda ecosystem on hand to offer up such distractions. They talk endlessly about "the unborn" and "groomers" and "critical race theory" and all these fabricated threats, instead of dealing with our traumatic realities. And the propaganda also helpfully tells conservatives they're the real victims, of all those "woke" liberals begging them to look at reality instead of hiding in their Fox News fantasies.

The Republican solution to school shootings is to keep ignoring the growing pile of dead bodies caused by their total refusal to live with the rest of us in reality. 

I wish this shooting was the shock to the system needed to bring right-wing America back to reality, but we can already see the opposite happening. They're digging deeper and deeper into their preposterous world of kids pooping in litterboxes and QAnon-style "groomer" accusations.

The Republican solution to school shootings is to keep ignoring the growing pile of dead bodies caused by their total refusal to live with the rest of us in reality. 


By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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