SAN DIEGO – Why are Republicans so quick to play the victim?
One of the most appealing things about conservatism is the emphasis on being self-sufficient and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The party of Ronald Reagan has never had much respect for those who blame others for their problems, make excuses for underperforming, or see conspiracies behind every curtain.
Nor do conservatives tend to look fondly upon those who bring up past injustices they’d rather sweep under the rug. It’s been more than 20 years, and I still remember the person who called into a radio show I was hosting on a conservative station in Central California. I was talking about the historical mistreatment of Mexican-Americans in that part of the country when the caller told me I had a “chip on [my] shoulder.”
But it’s a new world. We’re all victims now. The national motto is no longer “E pluribus unum.” It’s the phrase that Donald Trump uttered last week at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina: “I am a victim.”
The Republican nominee was discounting the slew of women who had come forward in recent days to say the reality TV star was much too forward in coming onto them. He has also been talking lately about how the media have “rigged” the election for Hillary Clinton. Trump has even suggested that illegal immigrants might be getting ready to vote against him, despite the fact that they’re ineligible to cast ballots.
There are those great lines that get immortalized. John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you.” Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Hillary Clinton’s “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
And now here comes Trump, once again capturing the mood of the country, with: “I am a victim.”
I’ve got chills. You don’t get more inspirational than that, folks.
And what has Mighty Mouth feeling so victimized? As Trump sees it, he’s being kneecapped by “one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country.” The Republican claims that the allegations of sexual impropriety are “all false stuff” and part of a “concerted effort” to torpedo his campaign.
This is odd. People who worry about being smeared are usually concerned about the sullying of their reputation. But Trump has no reputation left to preserve. It’s been destroyed – and his brand forever damaged – not by some shadowy conspiracy but through his own words and deeds during this campaign.
It turns out that victimhood is just as unappealing coming from conservatives as it was all those years it was embraced by liberals. In truth, Republicans joined the pity party decades ago.
In the 1980s, Republicans claimed they were victims of welfare mothers who gamed the system, and the kinds of affirmative action policies that kept their kids out of elite colleges. In the 1990s, Republicans became victims of illegal immigrants who trampled the nation’s borders and soaked up government benefits, not to mention the lawlessness and social unrest that was on display when major cities erupted in rioting. In the 2000s, Republicans insisted they were victims of voter fraud across the country, and Democratic Party shenanigans during the Florida recount where, at one point, white GOP campaign workers sang “We Shall Overcome.”
Today, Republicans see themselves as victims of Obamacare and trade deals that eliminated American jobs in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They also feel victimized when Democrats label them “racist” or “Islamophobic,” or when they’re accused of wanting to trim the federal budget by throwing grandma off Social Security and into the poor farm.
Frankly, I would have preferred that Republicans not travel this road. The world has enough real victims, without posers making a scene when they try to join the club. For Trump, there’s no turning back. But there still may be hope for the rest of the GOP. If you don’t mind taking advice from someone who’s been accused of playing the victim card, here are some tips:
You may be right. You could actually be a victim. But don’t think of yourself that way, or use it as an excuse for taking shortcuts. Be the best person you can be. Take responsibility for your actions. Be honest, compassionate, empathetic and fair. Communicate effectively, and connect with people. And it won’t matter who is out to get you. You’ll still get ahead.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.