Trump's whining about the "rigged" election feeds off GOP's longtime victim complex

For the right to cast themselves as history's victims is nothing new. But this time it's more dangerous than ever

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 30, 2020 8:30AM (EST)

Former President Donald Trump. (Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump. (Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images)

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post were out over the holiday with deep dives into the post-election moves by Donald Trump and various players around the country as the president refuses to concede and one lawsuit after another is rejected by the courts. They are harrowing tales of a president (whom one source in the Post describes as "Mad King George, muttering 'I won, I won, I won'") and a group of lower-level Republicans and judges around the country who stepped into the breach to stop him from overturning the election results.

The Post's narrative takes us down the White House rabbit hole to show just how demented Trump has been ever since election night, when it became clear that his strategy to take advantage of the "red mirage" wasn't working. You may recall that Republicans had successfully kept certain swing states from counting mail-in ballots until the day of the election, the idea being that an early lead from in-person votes might give the impression that Trump had "won" at least 270 Electoral College votes and could declare victory on election night. This stupid plan was thwarted by the Fox News decision desk calling Arizona for Joe Biden, not that it stopped Trump from emerging at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4, to declare victory anyway.

His behavior ever since has been predictably daft, disseminating obscure voter-fraud conspiracy theories, empowering his maniacal personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani (whom the Post says Trump considers a "peer") and generally behaving like a spoiled, petulant child who simply cannot admit that he lost. Even after four long years of debasing our government and political culture, this would almost be a sad denouement — if he weren't also brainwashing tens of millions of Americans to believe that the election was rigged and cannot be trusted. Unless he wins, of course.

The New York Times reported on the state and local Republican officials who withstood tremendous pressure to usurp the will of the voters and overturn the results for Donald Trump. Some of the stories are real profiles in courage, such as the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump called an "enemy of the people" in his rambling Thanksgiving Day press conference and who now has to have bodyguards due to all the threats against his family. But it didn't stop with the big names: There was an effort to get GOP officials all over the country to raise doubts about the election results and take actions to overturn them.

I guess it never occurred to any of the geniuses on the Trump team that asking these people to say the election was sabotaged would mean indicting themselves as incompetent stewards of the process. Most of them were not willing to destroy their own professional reputations for Trump's quixotic need to soothe his battered psyche. Sadly, it will not be surprising if many of them lose their jobs anyway. It's fair to assume they will be seen by some of their constituents as turncoats for allowing the massive fraud that (according to this insane narrative) cost Trump millions of votes in at least half a dozen different states.

The Times also lauds the judges at both the state and federal level who have dismissed one bumbling, amateurish lawsuit after another. Really, no one should have ever expected them to do otherwise. The fact that many of us actually felt anxious about that shows how low the bar is these days.

Despite protestations from plenty of establishment voices, none of this is a sign that the "guardrails" worked. It's clear from both articles that the only thing keeping Donald Trump and the Republican Party from overturning this election through propaganda and backdoor political power plays is the fact that too many swing states were not close enough for their strategy to work. Nobody should be relieved by this outcome. It's only remarkable because the election wasn't that close. And this unfortunately gives Trump a platform to be a martyr.

One of the most unattractive aspects of Donald Trump's personality is the incessant whining that everything is "unfair" and that he's a victim of conspiracies and plots and endless nefarious attempts to take him down. It has always surprised me that his unwillingness to take any responsibility for the fact that his presidency is a dumpster fire — or for literally anything else — doesn't bother the members of his base who wear T-shirts that say "F**k your feelings" and take such pleasure in making the "snowflake libs" cry.

For all their macho posturing, right-wingers forever cast themselves as victims. Going back to the antebellum South and the subsequent "lost cause" of the Confederacy, and then forward to the modern conservative movement that insists liberals will grab their guns, force them to abandon their religion and destroy their "culture," they're constantly whining that they don't get any respect.

Once again, Trump speaks to this massive set of insecurities. But standard conservative victimhood is changing into something else with Trump's crusade to delegitimize the election and convince tens of millions of people there is a conspiracy to disenfranchise them.

Yale professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on authoritarian regimes, appeared on CNN this weekend and explained just how pernicious this latest round of victimization really is:

You're telling people, basically Trump voters, whose votes were counted, that they are the victims and in doing so you are reversing the basic truth of American history, which is that the people who are at real risk of being disenfranchised are African Americans. You are reversing that story and that in itself is not only tragic, and unfair, but it is also dangerous.

When you teach people who have power that they are victims, you are risking people who have power to go outside the system the next time. That they will expect that their own party will and should cheat the next time.

Trump has made it clear that he believes the vote was stolen from him in cities with large Black populations — Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Basically, he's set up a counter-narrative that his white voters have been disenfranchised by Black people. His eager accomplices in the Republican Party are already taking advantage of this grotesque inversion of reality for their own ends:

You can imagine this happening in Republican states all over the country. This epic whiner will serve as a martyr to the cause of white disenfranchisement, which will inspire the MAGA legions to demand that their leaders summon the will to win by any means necessary. This isn't the end of this destructive pattern. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Disenfranchisement Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections Racism Republicans Voter Fraud