'I am a victim': How 'victimhood' remains the centerpiece of Trump’s message
During the pre-MAGA years, countless conservatives and libertarians slammed liberals and conservatives for pushing what they saw as a message of victimhood. The late economist, author and columnist Walter E. Williams, a right-wing libertarian/conservative, used to argue that as a Black man, he was tired of being portrayed as a victim by the left. As Williams saw it, libertarian and conservative ideology offered African-Americans a message of empowerment that they weren’t getting from the left.
Similarly, conservative columnist/author Mona Charen argued that feminism wasn’t empowering women but rather, was doing women a disservice by teaching them to think of themselves as victims. The message of Reagan conservatives of the 1980s and 1990s was: Life is hard, life is tough, life’s a bitch — get over it.
But victimhood has been a core message of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement. And conservative journalist Rich Lowry, in an op-ed published by Politico on November 23, emphasizes that Trump is continuing to push that message with his 2024 presidential campaign.
“There are many words that presidential candidates commonly seek to apply to themselves — ‘brave,’ ‘principled,’ ‘independent’ and the like — but ‘victim’ is rarely one of them,” explains Lowry, who is editor-in-chief of the National Review as well as a freelancer for Politico. “Donald Trump, though, is unafraid of the word; indeed, he has an affinity for it. ‘I am a victim,’ he said in his speech announcing his presidential run. ‘I will tell you, I’m a victim.’”
Lowry describes “victimhood” as “a status that conservatives disdain in every other context” but one that Trump “has used to his advantage.”
“Trump has created a dynamic for his supporters where the more seemingly victimized he is, the better,” Lowry observes. “He’s a victim because he’s strong and has stirred the hornet’s nest in a way no one else would dare. He’s a victim because the system is rigged against him and anyone who challenges it. He’s a victim because he’s so closely identified with his supporters, who have been, likewise, allegedly treated unfairly by large-scale economic and social forces.”
One of the ways in which Trump fires up his base, according to Lowry, is by convincing them that when he is victimized, they are victimized along with him.
“Trump’s self-described victimhood accords with his populism, which tends to see people, writ large, as being victimized by a corrupt elite,” Lowry notes. “It is also clearly a deeply ingrained aspect of his persona. One might assume that someone who has become so rich, famous and powerful would be filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, but Trump has always believed, whether as a businessman or candidate, that he’s being treated unfairly.”
Republican Mike Pompeo was a staunch defender of Trump when he was serving as secretary of state in his administration, but after Trump announced his 2024 campaign, Pompeo criticized the former president without actually mentioning him by name. Pompeo commented, “We need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.”
“Trump must consider his former secretary of state taking potshots at him as yet another item in the long, growing catalogue of his unfair treatment,” Lowry writes. “The ultimate indignity would, of course, be if Republicans denied him the nomination. At that point, Trump would transform from I’ll-fight-and-die-for-you victim to unadorned loser.”
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