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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during a news conference with other House Republican leadership in Washington on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during a news conference with other House Republican leadership in Washington on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

The Republican Party and Victimhood as Ideology

Republican victimhood hijacks legitimate suffering to elevate itself into self-anointed martyrdom.

Robert Freeman

The Republican party has become the party of victims. It is led by the biggest “victim” of all, Donald Trump.  Victimhood is an effective political ideology because it allows its holders to shunt off blame for their own culpability in having devastated the country, whether through presidential incompetence and venality, or by millions of registered Republicans backing decades of destructive Republican policies.

Because of that, however—because it misdirects the real ownership for bad outcomes—victimhood will not be the means to deal with the real problems we face. Until Republicans can deal with reality, instead of martyring themselves in fictive victimhood, we will continue to be battered.

Everywhere you look, Republicans make themselves out as victims. Trump made himself a victim on his first day in office when he attacked the press for correcting his easily demonstrable lie that his inauguration crowd size was the largest ever.  Naming the press “the enemy of the people” enshrined his victimhood into a central institution of American society: the media.

Trump’s 2016 campaign consorted with the Russians, meeting 26 times with Russian intelligence operatives, passing them top secret polling data, and collaborating about the release of the Hillary emails.  Yet, when his own Justice Department, led by the Attorney General he himself had appointed, opened an investigation—the Mueller probe—to get to the bottom of it, Trump made himself out to be the victim of a “Russia hoax.”  As with the media, he enshrined his “victimhood” into another of the leading institutions of American democracy:  law enforcement.

He tried to shake down the leader of another country—Ukraine—to help him with his campaign against Joe Biden. He was caught red-handed and impeached, and properly so. It was a naked, self-dealing abuse of power, exactly the kind of “high crime and misdemeanor” that the Founders intended impeachment be used for. Once again, Trump made it out that he was the victim, of a “witch-hunt,” enshrining his victimhood this time into the institutions of foreign policy and Constitutional checks and balances.  

Trump is a professional victim. He is a profoundly immature man who never takes the blame for his own failures. It’s pathetic in one of the richest and most powerful people in the world, but it works for him politically.  The narrative of victimhood becomes its own auto-inoculation from culpability about anything. No matter how egregious his conduct, no matter how corrupt and self-dealing his actions, no matter how humiliating his comportment, no matter how destructive his deeds, it is he who is the victim. There is literally nothing he does bad or badly that is his fault.

Everything is foisted on him by evil others who wish him ill.  He lied effusively, relentlesssly about the lethality and the transmissibility of coronavirus and put up a Mickey Mouse response, pitting states against one another while he belittled the wearing of masks.  Hundreds of thousands of people died.  But the real perpetrator in Trump’s whimpering victimhood was Democrats who want to politicize the pandemic, enshrining his “victimhood” yet again, this time into public health policy. 

They are victims of themselves for having backed decades of Republican economic policies explicitly designed to shift vast amounts of national income and wealth to those who were already the most-wealthy.Now, he’s the “victim” of a cabal of Democrats, media, coastal elites, Silicon Valley tech-types, and other vaguely menacing ne’er-do-wells who are trying to steal the election and hand it to Joe Biden.  The outrage!  This illustrates the utility of victimhood, not just for providing universal, pre-emptive exculpation for any and all of his own misdeeds, but for converting truth into lies to justify his continuing predations on others, in this case, the entire nation and its 240-year legacy of small-d democratic governance.  

Victimhood as political ideology plays especially well with Trump’s evangelical base whose personal ideology is wrapped up in the greatest victim of all, a guy who was gentle, simple, compassionate, reverent, perhaps even divine, but who was crucified—literally—precisely because he was too good. Republican victimhood hijacks legitimate suffering to elevate itself into self-anointed martyrdom. It works because it converts the rational into the visceral, reality into fantasy, setback into opportunity, and redemption into vengeance. Viscerally lived fantasy, seeking opportunities for vengeance.  Does that sound like any Republicans you know?

The irony is that the Republican base are, indeed, real victims, but not of liberals, or Democrats, or immigrants, or Muslims, or Blacks, or women, or Dreamers, or gays, or transgenders or any of the other “others” they have been trained to hate. They are victims of themselves for having backed decades of Republican economic policies explicitly designed to shift vast amounts of national income and wealth to those who were already the most-wealthy.

Between 1978 and 2018, Republican economic policies shifted more than $50 Trillion from the working and middle classes to the already very wealthiest people in the world, the top 1%.  The Republican base giddily backed those policies, to their own extreme detriment, though they didn’t know it. They thought they were backing family values and fiscal conservatism, limited government, anti-abortion, and national defense and all the other sucker guises that the redistributive polices came wrapped in, to disguise them.

Now we see leading Republican politicians like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz happily immolating the entire country on the bogus cross of a stolen election so that they can cancel the democracy that their wealthy masters abhor and are determined that their hired flunkies must destroy. It is the ultimate, fatal national expression of misguided victimhood, again, with the base being the true victims because they will be deprived of the democracy that is their only opportunity to undo the perfidy that has beleaguered them so and devastated their own and their children’s life chances.  But you have to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  Victimhood deprives you of those.

People need to grow up, man up, wake up, and step up and take back their country, their dignity, and their own salvation. They need the discernment and the courage to name the real perpetrators of shifting class fortunes and long-term national decline. That’s not going to happen by playing the victim.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman is the author of "The Best One Hour History" series which includes "World War I" (2013), "The InterWar Years" (2014), "The Vietnam War" (2013), and other titles. He is the founder of The Global Uplift Project which builds small-scale infrastructure projects in the developing world to improve humanity’s capacity for self-development.

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