In endorsing Donald Trump, Sarah Palin faced a challenge. How does a woman who has built her brand on hating cultural elites endorse a billionaire, Manhattan TV star? Her answer: by turning Trump into a victim.
She began by reasserting her own victimhood. When considering endorsing Trump, Palin said she was “told left and right, ‘you are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up, and chewed up, and spit out.’” But she wasn’t fazed because the media has been trying to do “that every day since that night in ‘08, when I was on stage nominated for VP.” Then she connected her own victimhood to the crowd’s, declaring that, nonetheless, “like you all, I’m still standing.” And she linked both back to Trump: “So those of us who’ve kind of gone through the wringer as Mr. Trump has, makes me respect you even more.”
After that, Palin expanded the circle of victimhood to include American sailors who were made to “suffer and be humiliated” by Iran, forced to “kowtow” and “apologize” and “bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.’” And she added workers who suffer so the “campaign donor class” can have “cheap labor” by ensuring that “the borders are kept open” and who lose their jobs when those rich donors endorse “lousy trade deals that gut our industry.”
What ties these people to Trump? They’re victims of a bipartisan system designed to screw them. And whom do the people running that bipartisan system fear most? Who is “really ticking people off”? Donald Trump. “He’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system,” and as a result, “Our own GOP machine, the establishment ...they’re attacking their own frontrunner.” The same people who screwed Palin, and who screw American troops and workers, the people who “stomp our neck and tell us to chill,” are now savaging Donald Trump as well.
But he alone, perhaps because he is a billionaire and from their elite world, may be able to stand up to them and strike a blow on behalf of the little people. Listening to Palin’s tribute to Trump reminded me of Toni Morrison’s famous 1998 essay in The New Yorker, in which she argued that impeachment had made Bill Clinton black. Yes, he had championed the death penalty. Yes, he had signed welfare reform. But when African Americans saw him “metaphorically seized and body-searched,” turned into an “always and already guilty ‘perp’” by the Republicans and Kenneth Starr, black America adopted him. He became a fellow victim.
White, straight, conservative Christians, who consider themselves the last group in America that can be victimized with impunity, have now embraced Trump for the same reason. If the same purveyors of political correctness who call them bigots call him one, then he must be doing something right.
In Clinton’s impeachment, African Americans saw their own suffering. In Trump’s campaign, Palin and company see their supposed suffering too. The difference is that Trump’s supporters remember a day, before “political correctness,” when they were on top. And so they see Trump as more than just the manifestation of their victimhood. They seem him as the instrument of their revenge.