But that’s not quite fair. The Republican Party does have a few deep-seated beliefs left. With his uncanny ability to channel the right-wing id, Trump perfectly expressed one of the modern GOP’s animating beliefs during a rally in Georgia on Dec. 5. “We’re all victims,” he said. “Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they’re all victims, every one of you.”
Huey Long promised: “Every man a king.” Trump’s premise: Everyone a victim. This might seem an unlikely sentiment coming from a tycoon who has been wealthy since birth. But no amount of success can cure Trump of his conviction that he is being treated unfairly.
You would think a party that has long preached the gospel of personal responsibility — of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps rather than relying on government handouts — would reject this cult of victimhood. Au contraire. Forget about all the “winning” Trump promised. Many Republicans prefer to see themselves as losers — and, boy, are they sore.
Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, rationalized support for Trump as a “middle finger … to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture” — meaning, “the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.”
Poor Republicans. They have to be satisfied with control of the Senate and the Supreme Court — and outsize influence in the House and the electoral college. And it’s not as if the institutions Republicans decry are monolithically liberal. Fox News is part of the media, too, and it has long been the top-rated cable channel. Nor is corporate America suffering from a shortage of Republicans — where else does Trump find all of his big donors? The owners of professional sports teams also skew heavily Republican.
The media sometimes depicts Republican voters as the poor and downtrodden — as the people that globalization left behind in opioid-ravaged Rust Belt towns — but that’s not exactly true. Exit polls show that President-elect Joe Biden won voters making under $100,000 a year. Trump won those making over $100,000 annually — and by a large margin (54 percent to 42 percent).
And yet it’s not entirely illogical that Republicans are seething with resentment. As Thomas Edsall argued in a recent New York Times column, Republicans are reacting less to a loss of income than to a loss of status and prestige.
Trump appeals primarily to older White voters: If the exit polls are accurate, he won 58 percent of White voters but only 12 percent of Black voters and roughly a third of Latinos and Asians. These White voters grew up in a world of unquestioned White privilege and certain widely accepted myths (e.g., about cops and Confederates) that are now being challenged as people of color become more numerous and assertive. Ultimately, by 2045, we will be a majority minority nation. It is fear of that fact that, more than anything else, explains and animates the modern Republican Party.
The Republican cult of victimhood is dangerous because if you believe that you have been wronged by forces beyond your control, you may also believe that you are justified in fighting back by any means imaginable. There’s a reason totalitarian movements so often rely on victimhood myths — such as Adolf Hitler’s claim that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” during World War I by liberals, Jews, communists and socialists, or Joseph Stalin’s claim that “enemies of the people” were plotting to sell out the Soviet Union to the fascists.
This kind of totalitarian propaganda strikes us as insane. But is it any crazier than the QAnon movement, which has been embraced by so many Republicans? It claims that top Democrats are Satan-worshipping, blood-drinking child molesters. Or is it any crazier than the “stabbed in the back” myth that Trump is now propagating — claiming that he was robbed of his rightful landslide by all-pervasive and yet entirely invisible chicanery?
Some of the very people who are now advancing the most preposterous claims of voter fraud — e.g., attorney L. Lin Wood — are also responsible for helping to raise $2 million to bail out Kyle Rittenhouse, the domestic terrorist who was caught on video and accused of killing two people and wounding another in Kenosha, Wis. They think he is a victim whose murderous rampage was justified in self-defense. This is an exceedingly dangerous mind-set that will victimize the whole country.