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'We're all victims': Trump pushes persecution complex to supporters

Conservatives used to condemn what they described as "victimhood culture." Trump's vision is fundamentally different.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senate Republican candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., at Valdosta Regional Airport
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senate Republican candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., at Valdosta Regional Airport, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Valdosta, Ga.Evan Vucci / AP

About a month before the election, Donald Trump's message was based almost entirely on a sense of personal grievances. The Commission on Presidential Debates wasn't showing him enough support. The media was too mean to him. Too few celebrated his meaningless Nobel Prize nominations.

"Over nearly four years in office, Mr. Trump has frequently changed his positions on issues, issued conflicting statements and shuffled through a revolving cast of staff," the New York Times noted in early October. "The one constant has been the president portraying himself as a victim at every turn."

At a campaign rally in Georgia over the weekend -- his first since losing his re-election bid -- the outgoing president went a little further down the same road. This was Trump's pitch:

"We're all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they're all victims. Every one of you."

He didn't specify why, exactly, his followers should embrace such a persecution complex, but in context, the president seemed to be referring to the 2020 elections. In other words, Trump's followers are "victims" because most voters backed his opponent.

To be sure, there have been voices on the right that have dipped toes in these waters for years. During his NRA tenure, Oliver North suggested to gun owners that they're similar to those who suffered under Jim Crow laws. Several years earlier, James Dobson, a leader of the religious right movement, whined that “people of faith are being sent to the back of the bus.” Much of the right has incorporated similar arguments when pushing back against racial-justice efforts.

But plenty of other conservatives have condemned what they've described as "victimhood culture." Ann Coulter wrote a book in 2009 titled, Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America. In the 1990s, Charlie Sykes wrote, Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character.

The idea has long been that "victimhood culture" led to demands for undue benefits and special privileges. Americans, the right argued, must reject a broad sense of self-pity and instead embrace personal responsibility.

Donald Trump -- born into riches, acquiring power and influence he did little to earn -- has a fundamentally different vision in mind for conservatives. Tapping into a growing current of cultural grievance in Republican politics, the outgoing president not only sees himself as a victim, he's eager to have his followers embrace victimhood as a staple of their political identity.

It's pitiful and wholly lacking in any sane justification, but this is the state of conservative politics in 2020.