Opinion

A party of victims

How victimhood became the core of modern conservatism

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the white supremacist who referred to immigrants as "dirt," is a victim. After he defended the terms "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, the Republican leadership removed him from his committee assignments.

"This is one of the most significant injustices that has ever taken place in Congress," King said. "I don't think any member of Congress has ever been targeted by social media, mainstream media, and all those outlets like I have been targeted. And once it started to roll it just turned into a snowball. It was a political lynch mob."

"It's horrible what I went through," Bill O'Reilly said after he lost his job at Fox News in the wake of revelations that he and the company had spent tens of millions of dollars to settle multiple sexual harassment allegations against him.

The most powerful human in the world is the biggest victim in the world. "There's never been a time in the history of our country where somebody was so mistreated as I have been," President Trump told George Stephanopoulos. "No president should ever have to go through this again," he said at his campaign launch rally in Florida Tuesday night.

Conservatives used to decry the culture of victimhood. Now they take delight in their oppression. Victimhood, after all, confers certain privileges: sympathy, special treatment, and moral license. As Charlie Sykes observed in his 1992 book A Nation of Victims, victims not only exculpate themselves from blame, but they also get to project guilt onto others. Back then, victims were minorities, women, the poor, the unemployed, and the disabled. The definition of "victim" now includes rich and powerful white men who feel sorry for themselves. In today's America, all you have to do to be a victim is to act like one.

During the Kavanaugh hearings last fall, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shouted that he was "a single white man from South Carolina" and would not shut up. Graham's non sequitur reminded me of Laura Ingraham's directive to LeBron James: "Shut up and dribble." It also reminded me of a scene in the movie Borat in which a college student (white and male) snivels, "The minorities actually have more power."

Multiculturalism sparked a predictable reaction: competitive victimhood. As one group after another sought recognition for their aggrieved status, it was only natural for straight white men to follow suit. Over time, as the number of victims proliferated, these non-victims began to see themselves as victims of all the other victims.

Some felt persecuted because of their skin color. The alt-right warns of "white genocide." King more euphemistically has warned of "cultural suicide by demographic transformation." In 2017, he told Unzensuriert, an Austrian publication founded by a former Nazi SS officer, "Western civilization is in decline." To them, white nationalism is a form of cultural self-defense.

Other non-victims focused on their genitalia, giving rise, so to speak, to the men's movement. After sexual assault allegations surfaced against Kavanaugh, Trump called it "a very scary time for young men in America." In Boston, a group of men are planning a "Straight Pride Parade" for later this summer. The New York Times reported: "It was also unclear whether the real intent of the event was a serious argument that straight Americans were oppressed and needed protection from discrimination, as the website suggests, or if it was meant to be a joke — and if so, what kind of joke."

If it's a joke, it's not outrageous enough to be funny. After all, earnest white Americans have been inquiring for years why there is no white equivalent to Black History Month or Black Entertainment Television. Luckily for them, they can tune into Fox News, where Tucker Carlson addresses and exacerbates their concerns every night.

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