September 11, 2015

Poor pitiful me: Donald Trump and the culture of victimhood

Damian PennyRebel Blogger

In the Howard Stern movie Private Parts, a group of NBC executives are discussing the results of a survey about Stern's devoted listeners. People who love Stern listen to him for an hour and twenty minutes on average, because they "want to see what he'll say next." But people who hate Stern listen to him for a staggering two and a half hours at a time - because they "want to see what he'll say next."

That sort of explains why I listened to a forty-minute-long telephone interview future leader of the free world Donald Trump granted to The Economist. Some of the highlights made it into the magazine's blistering leader about Trump, but even for those of us who would not support Trump under any circumstances - no, not even if Hillary were his competition - the entire interview makes for an absolutely riveting listen that goes a long way toward explaining The Donald's appeal.

Even his critics will admit that Trump is exceptionally charismatic and often very funny.  (Occasionally, the laughs are intentional.) And when Trump bragged about the landmark buildings he owns, I found myself legitimately admiring the fact that he makes absolutely no apologies for being fabulously wealthy. Compared to sons of privilege George W. Bush and Al Gore trying desperately to make themselves look like regular country folk (and, more recently, spouse of privilege Hillary Clinton straining to look middle-class) it's kind of refreshing to have a candidate who gloats about being rich.

But the real reason Trump may be doing so well is on full display during his interview: he appeals to many Americans' feelings that they've been hard done by.

Mexicans are sneaking into the country by the thousands, taking jobs and bringing crime. Meanwhile, big corporate fat cats are taking their business the other way, shuttering factories in the United States and opening them in Mexico. America is run by "idiots" who constantly get taken advantage of by other countries, whether they're ostensibly friendly or openly hostile. 

Thousands of American troops protect South Korea while television sets once made in America are now made in Korea. Why, his pals in the construction industry are forced to buy Komatsu tractors instead of Caterpillars, because the sneaky Japanese are undercutting American competition. (Hearing Trump bash Japan, I thought I was listening to Lee Iacocca circa 1992 again.)

Trump's message boils down to, the country is a mess and it's everyone else's fault. And his audience is eating it up, because it can be downright intoxicating to be a victim.

This applies all over the political spectrum - check out Tumblr on any given day to see how left-wingers consider themselves perennial victims - and it's not just an American phenomenon. Even during this Canadian election cycle we have people who oppose Stephen Harper loudly proclaiming he's not just a centre-right politician with whom they disagree, but the new Hitler incarnate. Meanwhile, people who support Stephen Harper think the media (including the newspapers that overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives in 2011, and whom I predict will endorse them again) have launched a jihad against the Prime Minister.

Nothing gets the blood pumping like a pervasive feeling that everyone else is out to get you. And according to Reason's Ronald Bailey, the United States itself seems to be shifting toward a culture of victimhood:

In honor cultures, people (men) maintained their honor by responding to insults, slights, violations of rights by self-help violence. Generally honor cultures exist where the rule of law is weak. In honor cultures, people protected themselves, their families, and property through having a reputation for swift violence. During the 19th century, most Western societies began the moral transition toward dignity cultures in which all citizens were legally endowed with equal rights. In such societies, persons, property, and rights are defended by recourse to third parties, usually courts, police, and so forth, that, if necessary, wield violence on their behalf. Dignity cultures practice tolerance and are much more peaceful than honor cultures.

Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning are arguing that the U.S. is now transitioning to a victimhood culture that combines both the honor culture's quickness to take offense with the dignity culture's use of third parties to police and punish transgressions. The result is people are encouraged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized, and oppressed. This is nothing less than demoralizing and polarizing as everybody seeks to become a "victim."

Maybe Donald Trump is just a flash-in-the-pan candidiate who will fizzle out like Herman Cain last time around. Or maybe he's the wave of the future.



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commented 2015-09-14 17:55:20 -0400
Don’t ever have to wonder what you’ll say next.
commented 2015-09-13 13:18:12 -0400
Damian, that may have been the most balanced and reflective piece of political commentary I have read here since the Rebel launched.
commented 2015-09-11 19:22:57 -0400
Donald Trump worked hard for 9 months to be born a billionaire.
commented 2015-09-11 15:11:36 -0400
Don’t you wish that just one of our candidates are as clear as Trump.