The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans keep whining that Biden offended them. Don’t believe it.

President Biden delivers a speech in Philadelphia on Sept. 1. (Doug Mills/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Republicans have had their feelings hurt. President Biden criticized them, and they’re just despondent over it. They’re insulted, offended, deeply wounded. The Umbrage Industrial Complex has mobilized its resources, and all must pay heed.

It has been a week since the president gave a speech on the danger posed by “MAGA Republicans” waging an extended assault on the foundations of American democracy. And the GOP can’t stop talking about how mean it was of Biden to say those awful things.

His critique was perfectly true. But what has stood out in the days since is how effective Republicans have been in focusing attention on the supposed spiritual injury they suffered at his merciless hand:

  • “Joe Biden calls for political purges and law enforcement crackdowns on his political opponents, and state media cheer him on,” said Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, inventing something Biden didn’t actually say.
  • Biden is “the most condescending president of my lifetime,” said former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
  • “Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
  • A Wall Street Journal columnist condemned the speech as an “attempt both to marginalize the opposition and to intimidate it into submission and silence,” claiming it contained an “implicit threat” that the powers of the federal government “may be deployed against disfavored beliefs.”
  • One well-known conservative author with 1.6 million followers on Facebook and 350,000 on Twitter tweeted, “I don’t think Hitler ever said anything about the Jews that was as straightforwardly evil as Biden said about me, as a Trump supporter.” (He deleted the tweet.)

This transparently phony whining was then taken at face value by many in the press, on the unspoken assumption that the complaint itself is proof of Biden’s failure to treat his opponents — who regularly call him a senile communist attempting to destroy America — with the proper empathy and concern. Reporters keep asking the White House spokesperson about whether the speech was too unkind to Republicans, even though Biden took pains to avoid criticizing all of them, instead addressing just the most extreme ones.

Every article about this topic is apparently required to make reference to two old supposed insults to conservatives’ tender feelings. Did you know that 14 years ago, Barack Obama said that some people cling to guns and religion as a focus of their political identity when they lose hope that either party will help them economically? Of course. You’ve seen that quote repeated a million times as proof of Democratic unkindness.

And in case you’ve somehow forgotten, Hillary Clinton once said half of Trump supporters were deplorable! These days, conservatives are proving that she was, if anything, too generous.

These are the very same people who worship Trump, who can’t open his mouth without slandering people in the most vicious of terms. Some of them argue for censorship in schools by saying that people among their opponents would be fine if students were molested by pedophiles. But their feelings, we’re told, have been hurt.

Persuading the media to amplify their griping and put Democrats on the defensive is only part of Republicans’ strategy. They know the double standard reporters have: They expect GOP leaders to be ferociously partisan, so take no particular note of it when they are; yet they demand that Democratic leaders be polite toward the other side’s voters, and scold them when they aren’t. When was the last time you heard a reporter ask whether Republicans were showing the proper empathy and respect toward Democratic voters?

What’s even more important for Republicans is that the whining unites all their party’s factions, from establishment plutocrats to QAnon conspiracists. The stance of victimhood is absolutely central to conservative identity at the moment — something everyone can agree on: We’re being censored, canceled, shadow-banned! White men are the most oppressed class in America! You’re not allowed to be a Christian anymore! Trump says he is “the most persecuted person in the history of our country,” and his infinite suffering is ours as well.

This has become the all-purpose answer to any argument conservatives don’t like: We’re the real victims here. It’s supposed to be a moral get-out-of-jail-free card, and it can be used to justify even the most repugnant behavior. How many times have they explained their embrace of Trump by saying it was the insults of liberals that pushed them into his arms? Look what you made us do.

So when you hear conservatives pretend to be insulted by the latest thing Biden or some other Democrat said, remember: You don’t have to give it any more respect than it deserves.

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