From Victim-Shaming to Victim-Claiming
The Golden Age of the Rightwing Crybaby
It was just one stupid thing among an infinitude of stupid things on the internet yesterday, but it stuck with me: “[Rightwing grifter] Charlie Kirk likens a restaurant asking him for his vaccine status to living in Nazi Germany: ‘I never want to hear again, like, how could the atrocities of Germany happen? Like, go to Corner Bakery, alright? You’ll see.’”
This is the sort of absurd and offensive comparison of minor present-day public health restrictions with the Holocaust conservatives make so often that the U.S. Holocaust Museum has, apparently and understandably, gotten tired of calling out. Most recently we’ve had conservatives including Elon Musk comparing Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler because he wants to clear the Parking Convoy buffoons off the streets of Ottawa.
Hitler and the Holocaust aren’t the only strange points of comparison conservatives have picked for themselves; for example, once-respected legal scholar Jonathan Turley compared the Convoy goons to Martin Luther King Jr.
But it’s not just false historical equivalencies that Kirk’s dumb remarks reminded me of. More than that, it reminded me of the large and apparently increasing part that victimhood status plays in rightwing culture war.
I’ve written about this tendency before, but at this moment conservative victim-claiming seems to be at flood tide. For instance, besides the vaccine thing:
The critical race theory scam. Remember when they started out with this and everyone who knew anything about it told them CRT is definitely not being taught in primary and high schools? Yet they remain on the rampage. Why? It’s not like they had any evidence. The answer is clear from the language of several of the state laws directed against this non-existent menace — how they talk about the “discomfort” and “guilt” they’re trying to save themselves and their children from. “We’ve heard, ‘You should feel guilty for what [white people have] done,’” a Texas Congressman claimed. “We have heard, ‘You’re people of privilege, and you should feel guilty for that privilege.’” (As in many such fantasies, no names or dates were supplied.) They may have no idea what CRT is, but they know when something makes them feel like someone’s persecuting them — and hearing about racism, at all, does that.
Joe Rogan. They’re still talking about him, and most of what they say is that this unaccountably popular stoner knucklehead, worth about $200 million, is a victim because some musicians don’t want to share a digital platform with him. If that weren’t dumb enough, when podcast episodes in which Rogan freely employed the n-word were disseminated, conservatives by and large didn’t make a free-speech argument for him — not the intelligent one that you can say anything you want if you’re willing to face the blowback, nor the more stupid (and more common among conservatives) one that consequences for racist speech shouldn’t exist; rather, they argued that Rogan was now even more oppressed, because “he is not allowed to use the N-word” (as if he were arrested for it rather than criticized) and Democrats would “use his offensive speech from years ago as a pretext to ‘cancel’ him.” See, Joe Rogan is a victim — notwithstanding riches beyond the dreams of avarice and an audience of millions — because some people got mad at what he said.
Biden’s unrevealed Supreme Court nominee. I give Biden credit for letting it just hang out there that he plans to nominate a black woman to succeed Breyer, because it has launched a full-on festival of rightwing grievance. “If you’re a white guy, tough luck,” wept Ted Cruz. Mississippi Senator John Wicker, among others, called it “racial discrimination” against guess which aggrieved majority group. “It raises the question of whether it is appropriate for a politician to use a criterion that the court itself has found unconstitutional for public educational institutions and unlawful for businesses,” bullshat Turley (again!) at the Wall Street Journal; he also cited the Bakke decision to suggest the job was being denied a deserving white man. (The letters to the editor about this were published under the headline “Is This Racial Injustice at the Supreme Court?”)
And so on. Baby-faced murderer Kyle Rittenhouse is a victim, declared Tiana Lowe at the Washington Examiner (while, the judge who helped get him off said, the people he killed were not); when the Republican Party copped out of the traditional presidential debate format, they claimed the same system they’d agreed to for years was now “unfair to the Republican.” (Nothing has changed except the delicacy of their feelings.) And conservatives are howling at the moon that the latest John Durham findings prove Hillary Clinton spied on Trump while he was president (though they prove no such thing) because it gives them new hope that they can claim for their Leader the highest honor their movement can now bestow: That of Victim.
Part of it is Trump’s influence for sure — his endless whining about how no one had ever been treated so unfairly as he had was very effective. But Trump didn’t invent the idea of crying victim when in fact you’re anything but — he merely activated it, the way the kid in The Boys from Brazil activated the Doberman Pinschers. Victimhood has always been part of the conservative shtick, and the rising prominence in public discourse of non-white people — who, don’t forget (conservatives never will!) provided the muscle behind Biden’s win — has in recent years excited it.
But now victim-claiming has become absolutely central to the conservative identity — really, something they have instead of an identity. And they see no reason to reverse course. They read their recent Virginia gubernatorial win, not as a typical by-election reversal for the party in power, but rather as a sign that mainstream voters agree the dusky hordes have oppressed them. They read the recent San Francisco school board recall the same way. Everything reflects back to them their vision of themselves as victims, and further convinces them their pissing and moaning is justified and will get them everything they want. Why bother then with policy? It only distracts from their grievance.
Try to picture them as an individual human being exhibiting this behavior — paranoid, obsessed with their own imagined persecution and dreams of revenge, but with sufficient privilege that they can’t just be carted off to the nuthouse as a danger to others and themselves — and you may be a little closer to understanding the sad state of our nation.