Donald Trump and the Art of Victimhood

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Trump as messiahPersecution. It’s a deeply-ingrained core component of the myth of Christian history, and well-weaponized in modern times by rightwing politicians who depend on the support from both the faithful and the pseudo-Christian Talibangelists. We’re under attack, they claim, justifying their own attacks on other faiths and non-believers. They use the imagined threat of persecution against Christians to justify book banning and book burning, forced prayer in schools, cuts to education, closing libraries, cuts to healthcare, bans on same-sex marriage, and restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. Their legislators implement repressive and oppressive measures to “save” their faith from secularists, liberals, scientists, Jews, Muslims, the UN, the WEF, George Soros, homosexuals, Democrats, immigrants, librarians, teachers, anyone they consider “woke,” the media, the DOJ, Dr. Fauci, and anyone else on their enemies list.

“The rhetoric of persecution legitimates and condones retributive violence,” writes Candida Moss in her book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. “Violence committed by the persecuted is an act of divinely approved self-defence. In attacking others they are not only defending themselves; they are defending all Christians.” Seeing yourself as persecuted, as the victim, makes it easier to ignore the feelings, the rights, the vulnerabilities, and the suffering of others, as Moss adds: “A defensive insensitivity that refuses to acknowledge the sufferings of those with whom we disagree is far too often where this obsession with persecution leads us.”(see notes, below for more quotes from Moss’ book)

This matters because, as Moss writes, this worldview of persecution “pervades political commentary” and “has left us with a dangerous legacy that poisons the well of public discourse. This affects not just Christians but everyone. We cannot use the mere fact that we feel persecuted as evidence that our cause is just or as the grounds for rhetorical or actual war.”

Yet that is exactly what conservatives and the far-right do.

Every year, for example, we are subject to the the ongoing “War on Christmas,” a non-event fabricated for a gullible audience by rightwing commentators like disgraced Bill O’Reilly and Putin-loving Tucker Carlson, and fanned into a pseudo-holy war through a firehose of disinformation and lies in media outlets like Fox Newz (arguably the American outlet for Russian TV propaganda), NewsMax, and Breitbart. Anyone who does not toe the ideological (and corporate) line about Christmas and does not loudly encourage exorbitant consumer spending is demonized.* And it’s used every year as a political tool to distract from real issues. As MediaMatters noted:

Deep down, they must know that there’s no actual “war” on Christmas, but it makes for good politics. Rather than having to address issues actually facing Americans — such as health care, the economy, and climate change — the fake battles in the fake War on Christmas give right-wing media a convenient way to manufacture divisions between the left and the right. The bombardment of misinformation playing up imaginary (or wildly overblown) examples of political correctness run amok are intended to scare and create a seeming sense of partisanship even on issues that are agreed upon nearly universally.

And, of course, during his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump milked the rage created by this “war.” He pledged he would “force” department stores to say “Merry Christmas” instead of Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, or another pleasant secular greeting. Didn’t matter whether the stores were operated by Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists. He also falsely claimed that Joe Biden would take the word Christmas “out of the vocabulary.” Biden, of course, never did any such thing (nor could he) and Trump was just lying as he always does.

Trump as MartyrAlthough he called Christians “fools” and “schmucks,” and called Christianity itself “bullshit,” Trump made himself out to be the frontline warrior to defend Christianity in the fake War on Christmas for three reasons: first, it played well with his far-right and Talibangelist base; and he is always quick to exploit their views no matter how ridiculous or radical. Second, it was easy: all he needed to do was make a few tweets disingenuously describing his efforts to hold back the tide of godless liberals, and his subservient media outlets like Fox Newz would play it up for months to distract viewers from his abject policy failures in almost every other area. And third, since the War on Christmas plays into the popular persecution myth, Trump could hijack it by making himself the endless victim of the “radical left” and the deep state, thus becoming its main focus. He always demands to be the centre of everyone’s attention.

In 2022, when he announced his third presidential run, in his speech Trump said, among his lies, “I am a victim. I will tell you I’m a victim.” He claimed he was the victim of a corrupt justice system every day in his media statements during his trial for falsifying business records for his hush-money payment to a porn star to keep his adultery secret. After his 34-count felony conviction, Trump amplified his pseudo-Christian rhetoric by calling the judge in the case a “devil” — one of the several deities in Christianity — and saying his defence witnesses “… were literally crucified by this man who looks like an angel but he’s really a devil.”

Of course, no literal crucifixion took place, and Trump was lying as he always does.

As Candida Moss wrote:

The view that the history of Christianity is a history of unrelenting persecution persists in modern religious and political debate about what it means to be Christian. It creates a world in which Christians are under attack; it endorses political warfare rather than encouraging political discourse; and it legitimizes seeing those who disagree with us as our enemies.

The Talibangelists equate persecution with faith. In her review of David Limbaugh’s 2012 book, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging a War Against Christianity, far-right harridan Anne Coulter commented, “There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.” Of course, Limbaugh’s book was just more disingenuous ideological claptrap, but it was well received by the Talibangelists.

Trump as martyrIf Trump was being persecuted, the Talibangelist logic goes, he must be one of us faithful… even if he struggled to hold a bible rightside up, couldn’t name a biblical verse or book, and is never seen in church. They believe in him even though he has proven himself a serial liar countless times, a serial adulterer who paid hush money to a porn star he coerced into sex, and has broken at least nine of the Ten Commandments. They believe in him even when he became a convicted criminal. They believed in him when he conned students at his fake university. They believed in him even when he started selling cheap Chinese-printed bibles with fake-leather covers at overblown prices. And they believed in him when he promised, “Believe me, if I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians that they’ve had in a long time,” even though he was nothing of the sort during his failed presidency.**

Reality does not shake his followers’ rose-tinted view of Trump. A recent story in the Associated Press news was headlined, “Jesus is their savior, Trump is their candidate. Ex-president’s backers say he shares faith, values.” The story noted:

Many of the T-shirts and hats that were worn and sold at the rally in March proclaimed religious slogans such as “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” and “God, Guns & Trump.” One man’s shirt declared, “Make America Godly Again,” with the image of a luminous Jesus putting his supportive hands on Trump’s shoulders.
Many attendees said in interviews they believed Trump shared their Christian faith and values. Several cited their opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, particularly to transgender expressions.

Trump grifts biblesDonald Trump is, in both his own eyes and his deeply gullible followers, the most persecuted person in history, and he makes sure to tell his followers that, over and over, and over. He’s the victim of endless attacks. And none of it, according to him, is his fault. He’s always the victim, never responsible for his acts. His rights are always being violated. The justice system is rigged against him alone. His election was stolen.  He is the target of a witch hunt. He calls on his followers to be prepared for an apocalyptic “final battle” to save themselves. And him, of course. He demands they save him from justice, from responsibility, from consequences, from guilt.***

And his more gullible followers associate him with their Jesus. He plays on the messiah theme, too, claiming in every speech he is the only one who can save them, the only one who stands between them and the satanic forces of evil: “I am the only one that can save this nation,” he said. One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. (William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5)

Those who believe they are also being persecuted for their faith are willing to overlook Trump’s egregious moral failings and abuses — despite being violations of every religious value they hold — because he has become their martyr. He is a deeply misogynistic sexual predator who assaulted many women — according to the book, All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator, “A full 26 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” and 43 instances of inappropriate behaviour… added to a list of nearly two dozen women who had previously accused him of sexual assault or misconduct.” Even his first wife, Ivana Trump, used the word “rape” to describe an encounter with him in a 1993 book. He was found guilty of sexual assault in court. Yet he plays the victim. Trump always blames the women, He claimed the women who accused him were “not attractive enough for him to sexually assault them.”

The AP story added that none of this matters to his MAGA cultists (and yes, it is a cult by every proper definition of the term):

Trump was the only Republican candidate facing scores of criminal charges, ranging from allegations that he conspired to overturn his 2020 election defeat to his current trial on allegations he falsified business records in seeking illegally to sway the 2016 election with hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels.
Trump was also the only GOP candidate with a history of casino ventures and two divorces, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct — one of them affirmed by a civil court verdict.

In a 2022 article on Politico, it noted

There are many words that presidential candidates commonly seek to apply to themselves — “brave,” “principled,” “independent” and the like — but “victim” is rarely one of them. Donald Trump, though, is unafraid of the word; indeed, he has an affinity for it.

During the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial, Trump also played the victim, as if she was the predator, not her rapist, and as if she was defaming him, not the reverse. As CNN noted in its coverage, he did it to “to advance the narrative that he is the victim of a broad conspiracy designed to block his return to office and damage his personal and business reputation.” Although the jury found him guilty of sexual assault and defamation,

“This is a hoax,” Trump said during a deposition in this case from October 2022. “This ridiculous situation that we’re doing right here. She’s a liar and she’s a sick person, in my opinion, really sick.”

The Japan Times ran a story headlined, After conviction, Trump presents himself as a martyr to the Christian right. It noted how he played on the association he makes between himself and Jesus to further align himself with the Talibangelists:

Trump also portrayed himself as having “wounds all over,” alluding to his legal troubles while suggesting that he was being targeted for his political beliefs.
“In the end, they’re not after me, they’re after you,” Trump said. “I just happen to be, very proudly, standing in their way.”
He added to raucous applause, “We need Christian voters to turn out in the largest numbers ever to tell Crooked Joe Biden, ‘You’re fired!’”****

As Candida Moss said in an interview on NPR, Trump exploits the myth of persecution to strengthen his own brand as a martyr to the faith:

When they hear Trump talk about how he’s persecuted, if they’re already supporters of his, it’s a familiar cry – one they’ve heard from the pulpit on Sundays. They identify with him because of it, and they start interpreting criticisms of Trump through that framework. And that means, for example, that when he gets indicted, as he has been, that just serves as evidence that he is being persecuted. So it’s win-win for him. It’s like a dog whistle. They hear him say that he’s persecuted. They know what that means. They know how unjust it is. However legally justified any of these cases are, there is a substantial proportion of his supporters who will believe that this is nothing other than a crime against justice. For Trump supporters, these indictments are crimes. They are crimes of persecution.

Tump vs mediaTime Magazine noted in a story earlier this year, that Trump has been pushing his claim of martyrdom harder than ever:  “Donald Trump has been in full Messiah-mode lately, telling his followers that he’s suffering for their sake, sharing a faux courtroom sketch of Christ at his side, and circulating actor Jon Voight’s bizarre claim that he is being “destroyed as Jesus.”… And now that he is the Christlike martyr—whose faithful followers proved willing, on Jan. 6, 2021, to storm the Capitol, attack police officers, and threaten to hang then-vice president Mike Pence—Americans are left to wonder what further violence might emerge from such twisted faith.”

It doesn’t matter to his followers that comparing Trump to Jesus is blasphemy, either, nor that the proper comparison might be with Pontius Pilate. The deranged QAnon cultist Marjorie Taylor Greene compared Trump to Jesus at a recent rally because they’re both “convicted felons.” As the story notes, “The audience cheered.” As noted in the Intelligencer:

…rational assessments of Trump’s record aside, there is a more disturbing phenomenon going on among conservative Evangelicals: a Christian nationalist movement in which Trump can only be described as an irreplaceable figure whose political success is crucial to God’s plan for redeeming a sinful world. This notion was made most clearly evident in the ReAwaken America tour series of politico-religious events highlighted by Trump-pardoned scoundrels Michael Flynn and Roger Stone that flowed out of the January 6 pro-Trump insurrection…

Trump pseudo-ChristianReAwaken America has been described as the “Start of QAnon 2.0,” referring to the online conspiracy and disinformation factory that spewed tens of thousands of lies and bizarre conspiracies to cult followers and encouraged violence against opponents of Trump from around 2015 to 2022; more lies than even Fox Newz produces (and which the same media repeated and amplified). QAnon was embraced by the Trump campaign in 2020, in large part because Q shared Trump’s whiny I’m-a-victim-again Big Lie about having the election “stolen” from him (it wasn’t: he lost). QAnon was a major factor in helping Trump incite the attempted insurrection against the Capitol on Jan. 6. Reawaken America is a pro-Trump conspiracy circus aimed at encouraging the Talibangelist voters.

One of the major Q conspiracies was that “There’s an international cabal of prominent people in entertainment and the Democratic Party that worships Satan and traffics children to ingest a chemical they produce.” Two of its more vocal conspiracy-befuddled cultists — Marjory Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert — were elected to Congress by promoting this and similar codswallop. The paranoid, secretive, anti-democratic worldview of Q has been “largely been folded into the broader Republican Party” according to the Washington Post. “It’s not that the Republican Party rejected QAnon, but that QAnon sort of assimilated into the GOP.”

An actual prayer spoken at a Reawaken America rally shows how politically charged the far-right Talibangelists have become and how they are helping spread the Trump=Jesus trope:

Father God, we’re asking you to open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding that … he will know how to implement divine intervention, that you will surround him with none of this Deep State trash, none of this RINO trash … in the name of Jesus.

(RINO means Repugnican In Name Only). The Reawaken group has at its core ideology unhinged conspiracies about the COVID-19 virus and how the 2020 election was stolen, both derived from earlier QAnon content. Their rallies “feature clergy, overtly religious rhetoric and even baptisms.” As noted on ReligionNews:

Years ago, an evangelical pastor quipped, “I have my people for one hour on a Sunday morning. FOX News has them for the rest of the week.” ReAwaken America completes the takeover of Christian hearts and minds by co-opting worship for the purpose of FOX-ifying it. Evangelical politics are changing the character of faith in ways that may be hard to pull back from…  ReAwaken America rallies are so grotesquely perverse, destabilizing and riddled with delusions and heresy that silence is no longer tenable.

And yet they continue to draw the MAGA cultists and Talibangelists and Trump continues to play the victim, encouraging more and more the association between himself and Jesus, brother martyrs to the faith. As Candida Moss said in her NPR interview, playing the victim like this, “remains a really valuable weapon in the rhetorical toolbox that you can bring out if you’re being disagreed with.” She added:

If you think about the number of times that President Trump claimed that he was attacked during his presidency, to say nothing of right now, and the exaggerated claims that he was the most attacked political leader in history, which you can imagine Julius Caesar might disagree as he was murdered by a group of senators – but this kind of inflammatory rhetoric, it’s completely dislocated from historical events. And you can continue to use it as a way to kind of buffer yourself from any criticism, regardless of how powerful you are.

Notes:

* As Newsweek points out, the date for the birth of Jesus — Dec, 25 — was not chosen as the official birthdate until 336 CE, more than three centuries later, and even then, Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. The actual date was more likely in the spring. The day wasn’t even a federal holiday in the USA until 1870. The term “Merry Christmas” is first recorded from 1534, but in some nations they say “Happy Christmas” instead. Christmas aa a gift-giving event to was invented during the Victorian era, in the mid-1800s. The association of Christmas with Santa Claus also comes from the Victorian era, but got its present-day appearance from Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s. The White House did not even send out Christmas cards until 1953.

** In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the narcissist Trump replied, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” Again he aligns himself with Jesus whom Christians believe is the only perfect man, a role Trump usurps for his own advantage.

*** Sonnet 29, William Shakespeare seems appropriate for Trump’s faux-victim game:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope…

But also, as we hope for his incarceration after his 34-count felony convictions, we are reminded of Sonnet 74:

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.

**** Trump has also endorsed the unconstitutional new law in Louisiana that mandates the Ten Commandments be hung in every public classroom. At a recent event, Trump wondering aloud “how anyone could possibly oppose the inclusion of the religious text in schools and adding “the right to religion does not end at the door at a public school.” Yet media has reported that not only has he broken most or even all of those commandments, some many, many times over, but that he does not have them posted anywhere on any of his own properties or residences.

More quotes from Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (emphasis added):

“When, in 2012, Newt Gingrich was asked about how his religious beliefs would affect his conduct should he become president, the Republican nominee hopeful answered, “One of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity” in the United States. For a potential president to state that he sees himself as a wartime candidate who will defend his party against other citizens is astonishing. There is not even a pretense here of “united states”.”

“The problem is what happens when this vision of the world is translated into settings in which Christians are not the underdogs. In situations where Christians have the military, political, and financial power to take steps against their “demonically inspired” enemies, this worldview can legitimize all kinds of violence. Once a group, idea, or person is labeled evil, then any measures can be used in opposition, even if these measures themselves involve torture, imprisonment, and execution. The fact that these stories envision actual physical possession by the devil only makes the problem worse. In a world in which one’s enemies are no longer people but agents of evil, those people are completely dehumanized. They are no longer deserving of compassion, forgiveness, understanding, or empathy. No one clamors for basic human rights for demons. Early Christian martyrdom stories set a precedent for later generations of Christians to see the world in this way. Once a group claims to be persecuted, they invoke (whether explicitly or implicitly) the idea that their opponents are acting for the devil.”

Claims of being persecuted are used in order to exclude and suppress other groups, to identify them with demonic forces, and to legitimize rhetorical and perhaps also literal violence against them. From the very beginning Christian claims to membership in a historically persecuted group and the formation of the myth of persecution were strategic. This myth of persecution was, paradoxically enough, a way to marginalize others. Ironically, if modern Christians are the heirs of early church traditions about martyrs, it is this myth that they have preserved. Just like Christian writers in late antiquity, we continue to use the claimed experience of persecution to justify our attacks on others and legitimize our opinions.”

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6 Comments

  1. Shakespeare called it right for Trump’s legacy:
    “I have lived long enough: my way of life
    Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf;
    And that which should accompany old age,
    As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
    I must not look to have; but in their stead
    Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath,
    Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.”
    – William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.3

  2. Two of the three books I have recently read and highly recommend:Collusion
    Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. 2017, by Luke Harding. Excellent, well-detailled expose of the Russians behind Trump’s 2016 victory.

    The Storm is Upon Us

    The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, A Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, by Mike Rothschild. The social media platform that helped Trump launch his Jan. 6 insurrection.

    Third book: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer. While not specifically about Trump, it is about how the ultra-rich have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to successfully influence legislation and buy politicians in order to shield them from taxes, corporate oversight, and legal restrictions.

  3. https://popular.info/p/south-carolina-poised-to-impose-draconian
    MAGA-cultist, pseudo-Christian legislators in South Carolina poised to impose draconian censorship regime on school libraries. The new regulations could result in the banning of most classic works of literature from South Carolina schools — from The Canterbury Tales to Romeo and Juliet to Dracula.

    Moms for Liberty’s influence in South Carolina
    Weaver is a close ally of the far-right, anti-freedom/pro-fascist group Moms for Liberty, which has advocated across the country to remove books from school libraries. She appeared at the Moms for Liberty 2023 Joyful Warriors National Summit. “There is nothing more precious that God has created than the hearts and the minds of our young people,” Weaver said. “And that is what the radical woke left is after. Make no mistake: saving our country starts with saving our schools.”

    South Carolina’s new regulations were drafted by attorney Miles Coleman, an attorney and the president of the local chapter of the deeply anti-democratic Federalist Society, a far-right legal organization. According to public records published by the South Carolina ACLU, Weaver personally requested a contract that paid Coleman $225 per hour to create and advocate for the regulations.

  4. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2024/6/21/2247910/-House-Republicans-bar-any-mention-of-Trump-s-felon-status-on-House-floor

    House Republicans bar any mention of Trump’s felon status on House floor

    If your sole source of information was limited to the reading the day-to-day proceedings of our elected Representatives as they perform their sworn duties within the House chamber, you might never realize that the leader of the Republican party is a convicted felon. Or an adjudged sexual abuser, for that matter.

    As reported by Luke Broadwater, writing for the New York Times, the current Republican majority responsible for the rules of decorum to be followed by members of the House has forbidden any mention of Donald Trump’s felony status during “official” business.

    As Broadwater reports:

    The Republicans who now hold the majority have used those rules to impose what is essentially a gag order against talking about Mr. Trump’s hush-money payments to a porn actress or about the fact that he is a felon at all, notwithstanding that those assertions are no longer merely allegations but the basis of a jury’s guilty verdict. Doing so, they have declared, is a violation of House rules.

    As Broadwater notes, Republicans have even gone so far as erase one of their Democratic colleague’s, Mass. Rep Jim McGovern’s remarks from the record after he had the audacity to factually describe Trump in the following terms:

    “We have a presumptive nominee for president facing 88 felony counts, and we’re being prevented from even acknowledging it,” he complained, adding: “He’s also charged with conspiring to overturn the election. He’s also charged with stealing classified information, and a jury has already found him liable for rape in a civil court and, yet, in this Republican-controlled House, it’s OK to talk about the trial — but you have to call it a sham.”

  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XsORP-VuRI
    Why Trump Is Partnering With Pseudo-Christian Nationalists (aka the Christofascists) by Robert Reich
    Donald Trump keeps comparing himself to Jesus.
    Whether he actually has a messiah complex or is just conning his supporters (spoiler alert: he is, he always grifts…), he’s playing to a growing extremist GOP faction that wants America to be a white fake-Christian Nationalist state, with Donald Trump as a divine ruler.
    Be Warned.

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