Trump’s Victimhood and the Power of Narrative

President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks to media on the tarmac before boarding Air Force One, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to speak at a campaign rally in Neptune Aviation Services, Missoula, Mont. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If you listened to our President, you could come to the conclusion he is part of a victimized minority, with no power or clout in any political arena. The “deep state” supposedly hinders the implementation of his agenda. Trump, in a USA Today column, warned “... if Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America.” Trump constantly accuses the mainstream media of espousing leftist rhetoric, attacking him and silencing conservative voices. According to him, "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

These claims, of course, are completely divorced from reality. The Supreme Court, Congress, the White House and a majority of state legislatures are controlled by the Republican party. Fox News, a self-identifying conservative outlet, is the most popular cable news channel in the country by a wide margin. The pages of the Wall Street Journal are brimming with dogmatic right wing opinion pieces. Due to social media and the help of numerous popular right wing media outlets, conservative voices have a broader platform than ever. Even center-left news channels like CNN and MSNBC, who may oppose Trump occasionally, gifted him billions of dollars of free coverage in 2016, arguably fueling his campaign’s success.

Most importantly, the modern conservative ideology of deregulation, tax cuts and trickle-down economics birthed in the mid twentieth century and fully realized by the Reagan administration, is the dominant political ethos in American politics. Big business has grown larger than at any time since the Gilded Age, while organized labor has experienced a precipitous decline in membership and power. The wealth inequality gap has turned into a chasm. 10 years after greed, deregulation and recklessness on Wall Street triggered a global economic meltdown, the financial sector remains thoroughly unaccountable, and the working class has bored the brunt of their mistakes. Conservative ideology has pulled liberals to the right as well. The mainstream media fully subscribes to, at best, neoliberal economic thinking, and the Democratic party would be considered center-right in all other Western developed nations. In short, if its socialism you’re afraid of, this is the right country for you.

Clearly, Trumps victim narrative is nonsense, but it highlights a larger point: Trump has a powerful ability to control public discourse, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against them. Look what happened when Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and others peacefully protested against police brutality: Trump accused the protesters of disrespecting the anthem, the flag and military veterans, and focused national discussion on the method of protest rather than the substance. When Brett Kavanaugh was credibly accused of assaulting multiple women, Trump, Republican politicians and the conservative media asserted that Kavanaugh, not Dr. Ford or Deborah Ramirez, was the victim of these accusations.

Media outlets like the aforementioned Fox News, coupled with Trump’s bully pulpit, ensure that conservative messaging dominates. Popular liberal counter-measures, like fact-checking, miss the point. The news cycle moves too quickly nowadays. Only a fraction of the people who see the initial story will see the correction, and if they’re only watching conservative media outlets, they likely won’t see a correction at all. Other center-left news channels know that Trump related sensationalism sells, so they mold entire news cycles on his tweets and speeches.

So I say to the left: Stop playing defense. Stop trying to beat Trump and his media mouthpieces at their own game. Make it clear that we aren’t interested in engaging with absurd ideas like Trump’s victimhood. We need to offer an alternative narrative, focused on solidarity, equality and working class power. Support young, bright leaders like Andrew Gillum, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who are bringing these ideas to the forefront. Get involved with grassroots organizing and movement building. Recognize that a narrative of hope and change won Barack Obama an election, while Hillary’s failure to present an appealing alternative to Trump’s populism cost her an election. In order to implement a public policy program that will promote progressive goals, winning elections is a must. Narrative wins. Let’s get building.


Harry Zehner is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at harry.zehner@uconn.edu.