If you’re still curious about just how sick the American body politic has become, there’s nowhere more informative than that spot on the Internet where fake news intersects with the right-wing’s paranoia over all things Californian.
For the past 10 days or so, that fetid point in cyber space has virtually vibrated with outrage over the Golden State’s purported “legalization of child prostitution.” From team Trump’s favorite, the widely read Breitbart.com—a self-proclaimed “platform” for the alt-right—to the Conservative Daily Post to World News Net to the right’s more obscure corners, like churchmilitant.com, which among other things defends geocentrism (the belief that the sun moves around the earth), the right-wing has insisted that California now permits the sale of sex with children.
The culprit is supposed to be State Senate Bill 1322, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year and which took effect Jan. 1. The hysteria churned up over the measure is another instructive example of the right-wing’s insatiable desire for fake news and California bashing—an appetite that has taken on an increasingly sinister tone since Donald Trump’s election.
Now, as a native Californian, I would be the last person to deny some of my confreres’ tendency—particularly in the Bay Area or on Los Angeles’ Westside—to attenuate even the worthiest of causes to Kafkaesque absurdity. (We’re talking the sort of folks who refuse to vaccinate their children or who want to criminalize circumcision or the consumption of foie gras.)
That said, Sacramento has not legalized child prostitution. What SB 1322 does is to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting young people under 18 for soliciting or loitering with intent to commit prostitution. Adults who solicit sex from minors or those who pimp them or in any way facilitate trafficking or prostitution still would be arrested and charged.
The children, however, would be treated as what they are—victims and not criminals. Rather than saddling them with a record for life, law enforcement officers will take them into temporary custody if they’re in physical danger or require medical treatment. Otherwise, they will be referred to country child welfare officials as victims of abuse or neglect.
“The key is that the children involved are not liable, not that the conduct has been legalized,” UC Davis’ Gabriel Chin told Politifact, which retained the criminal law professor to analyze the bill. Under SB 1322, “child prostitution is treated just as, say, the production of child pornography is.” Adults involved are subject to criminal prosecution, while the children, who are correctly deemed victims, are not, he said.
None of these facts have prevented outpourings of right-wing vitriol such as this from the Conservative Daily Post: “Considering that about 70% of Hillary’s popular win came from California,” (that number’s way off, but that’s another topic) “it’s totally unsurprising that the borderline state has doubled down on the lawlessness and corruption that Hillary embodies. Beginning on Jan. 1 . . . .prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right. SB 1322 bars law enforcement from arresting sex workers who are under the age of 18 for soliciting or engaging in prostitution, or loitering with the intent to do so. So teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution.
“This terribly destructive legislation was written and passed by the progressive Democrats who control California’s state government with a two-thirds “supermajority.”
Another right-wing commentator moaned apocalyptically, “Next up, pedophilia. Come January 1st, you can legally have your pick of child prostitutes in the land of fruits and nuts, thanks to Governor Moonbat Brown. Reason 3,089,047 to get the hell out of California. . . If you can believe it, a supermajority of California’s legislature passed this depraved policy.”
The fact that this is precisely the legal strategy that has successfully suppressed the production of most child pornography in this country seems to matter not at all.
What’s particularly instructive about this absurd frenzy is that there are numerous sites on the web—including conservative stalwarts like redstate.com and Glenn Beck’s Blaze—that have pointed out that SB 1322 does not legalize the prostitution of children, but the denunciations continue undeterred. In part, I suspect, it’s because all of them trace back to an op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner by Republican California Assemblyman Travis Allen, which began, “Beginning on Jan. 1, prostitution by minors will be legal in California. Yes, you read that right.” The Washington Examiner, you may have noticed, is where goofy ideas go to die.
Allen represents Orange County’s Huntington Beach, and there must be something in the water down there, because it’s also the area that elects as its congressional representative Dana Rohrabacher, the one-time libertarian anarchist who now is the House of Representative’s leading Vladimir Putin fan. He’s currently trying to put together a delegation of lawmakers to go to Russia and work out common efforts with the Duma, the Kremlin’s legislative rubberstamp.
In any event, there are few things the right relishes more than a self-hating Californian, and Allen does not disappoint, since his piece goes on to decry any number of welfare and other reforms enacted by the legislature.
“Unfortunately for Californians, SB 1322 isn’t an outlier” he writes, “it’s only the tip of the liberal iceberg. 2017 will see the Golden State subjected to wave after wave of laws taking effect that are well-intentioned but disastrous embodiments of progressive utopianism.”
I don’t know about utopianism, but I think I do recognize ideological fantasy when I see it—which is what this whole pseudo controversy is contrived from. But, all the evidence to the contrary, Allen is not dissuaded from his imagined anxieties. This week, he went on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox cable show—it’s where goofy ideas go for artificial respiration—and insisted, “”The California Democrats did just legalize child prostitution in California.”
Damn the evidence, full speed ahead into the politics of fantasy and fiction.
There’s something more at work here, and it relates to the same impulse that made so many of these same sites and commentators willing to entertain the preposterous allegation that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child abuse ring out of the basement of Washington D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong pizzeria.
That fact that there was no shred of evidence that such a crime was occurring—or that there was no basement in the pizzeria—did not dissuade right-wing haters, including a member of Trump’s transition team, from insisting there was something to be investigated. They persisted, in fact, even after unbalanced and credulous consumer of their calumnies shot the place up with an assault rifle.
In the lexicon of the nationalist and neo-populist right, the Democrats and all opponents cannot simply be mistaken on the issues, they also must be as the one commentator on SB 1322 put it, “depraved.”
Those who disagree with them must be immoral and, therefore, not “real Americans.” That sentiment—the transmutation of political opponents into the malevolent “other’—paves the way to authoritarianism’s newest manifestation: “illiberal democracy.” That’s something that needs to be resisted by every moral and legal means available.
To do otherwise is to betray not just this generation, but those to come.