After the attempted coup, the mood in the pro-Trump world became one of profoundest self-pity. The president’s supporters compare themselves to victims of Stalin’s purges, to the unpersons of George Orwell’s 1984. They watch their Twitter followers disappear as the company closes QAnon accounts, and they feel persecuted. They invoke Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about Nazi Germany: First they came for those who plotted the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and I said nothing.
David A. Graham: The insurrectionists would like you to know that they’re the real victims
Again and again since Election Night 2020, Republicans have urged sympathy and accommodation for those who refused to accept the election outcome. Give them space for their feelings. What harm will it do to humor them a little longer?
Over the past half decade, we have turned much of the country’s mindscape into a group-therapy session for Trump believers. Reporters play the part of the therapist, reassuring the analyzed of a safe space for their grievances and complaints. The pro-Trump world has accepted the invitation. Even as Trump commits one constitutional, legal, and ethical abuse after another, his followers depict themselves as somehow the people truly suffering unfairness. Trump was a perpetrator who thought himself a victim, and American society has indulged that same illusion among Trump supporters.
Hawley described himself as a victim of a “woke mob” after his publisher terminated his book contract because of his leadership role in propagating the falsehoods that inspired the attack. Cruz, who shoved himself to the forefront of the movement to overturn the 2020 election, has accused his critics, beginning with Biden, of “vicious, partisan rhetoric that tears our country apart.” The head of the American Conservative Union—a lobbyist married to Trump’s communications director—lamented that he and his fellow Trump supporters were being sent to a “digital Gulag.” A co-publisher of the conservative news site Human Events tweeted: “The conservative movement is about to face a level of collective discrimination by the institutions of our society not seen since Jim Crow.” The op-ed editor of the New York Post topped that analogy: “We're now going to see US sanctions—à la Iraq and Iran—applied to religious conservatives, economic leftists and others who reject the reigning corporate woke orthodoxy. Oh, you don't think there are 157 genders? There goes your access to banking!”
James Fallows: Time for consequences
Many condemnations of the violence came hedged and guarded. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, released a video statement about the attacks that joined 20 seconds of forthright condemnation to nearly four full minutes of blame shifting and excuse making:
Is the mainstream media—especially places like CNN and MSNBC—outrageously biased? Of course! One hundred percent … And by the way, this kind of blatant bias, this double standard, that’s one of the reasons why so many Americans have sought political shelter in divisive political movements and in conspiracy theories that offer them the promise of fighting back against it … We can’t allow our anger at all that stuff to turn us into them.
The central concept in modern conservatism is victimhood. Responsibility, accountability—those are standards they apply to others, never to themselves. Even as they confront their stark record of complicity and culpability, they cannot absorb it.