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Victim Status and the Political Right

The Free Press WV


In all honesty, there is a lot I do not understand about the Right. Although the Left is far from flawless, it strikes me that the Right is full of hypocrisy. They don’t want big government to tell me what to do and not do with my ######—until they do want exactly that. They want the free market to be uninhibited yet take all manner of funding from interest groups and allot record levels of corporate welfare—and impose ant-free trade tariffs. They don’t want undocumented immigrants until they do want them as laborers. And on, and on…

These hypocrisies are pernicious, but one that really boils my blood is the calling out of the Left as “snowflakes” who simply want to maintain victim status while at the same time fulling embracing victimhood. While this is true of many on the Right, no one embodies that hypocrisy better than Donald Trump.

Calling out the Left is part of the broader attack waged by the Right, and by Trump himself, against so-called political correctness. Labeling the Left as politically correct or as snowflakes merely serves to shut down conversation and dismiss important ideas. As Dana Schwartz wrote in a February 2017 article for GQ, however, “There is not a single political point a liberal can make on the Internet for which ‘You triggered, snowflake?’ cannot be the comeback. Its purpose is dismissing liberalism as something effeminate, and also infantile, an outgrowth of the lessons you were taught in kindergarten. ‘Sharing is caring’? Communism. ‘Feelings are good’? Facts over feelings. ‘Everyone is special and unique’? ‘Shut up, snowflake.’”

The derogatory use of the term snowflake comes, in large part, from the film Fight Club, an adaptation of the 1996 Chuck Pahluniak novel of the same name. In it, the narrator joins an underground men’s fighting club, where members repeat the mantra, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” Men’s rights activists, bodybuilding forums, and the political Right have picked up on this mantra, which many have called the “manosphere.” In reality, the roots are far deeper, emanating from the Right’s need to reject the threat of communism by labeling it “red” or “pink,” hence “wussified” or feminine. Republicans, then, use the rhetoric of “men” while Democrats are “women.”

But, in reality, those slinging the snowflake allegations, as Amanda Hess wrote in June 2017 in New York Times magazine, “tend to seem pretty aggrieved themselves — hypersensitive to dissent or complication and nursing a healthy appetite for feeling oppressed.” What makes one a snowflake, supposedly? An inflated sense of self-importance, an inability to handle criticism, demand for respect, and a sense of victimhood supposedly disproportionate to reality. Sound familiar? That is Donald Trump embodied.

When he’s insulted, he melts down on Twitter, berating people in a fashion not dissimilar to a middle schooler. He is, supposedly, a victim of various attacks by individuals and institutions, most often the press, of course, but also Hollywood celebrities, Broadway stars, even a Gold Star mother. He is the victim of a “witch hunt” regarding collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election. Could any words better describe victim status than “witch hunt?”

Trump won the election by owning and encouraging victim status. His squad was all too quick to buy the rhetoric that their jobs have been lost or are at risk to immigrants, that people from certain countries threaten our safety, that women levy false accusations to destroy men, and that rights for LGBT individuals threatens the sanctity of the “American family,” among other things. Even “Make America Great Again” presumes some great travesty befell the poor nation. Victims must be returned to a state of prominence!

Likewise, the notion that the Left is too soft to handle certain conversations and the minimizing of people feeling “triggered” is also in the Right’s playbook, albeit using different language and tactics. The continued efforts to criminalize nonviolent protest, for example, show that the Right is all too happy to shut down dialogue.

I believe that there is something to be said about overdoing victim status. That is a worthwhile conversation. But when the very real picture of the U.S. is one that is still tremendously racist, sexist, militaristic and unequal, it is deeply infuriating that negative labels prohibit real discussion and actual action.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology.

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