In order to understand the current conservative backlash movement, it is necessary to comprehend the role played by fantasies of victimhood that supports victim politics. Victim identification is one of the strongest political forces in the world today. Not only do religious fundamentalists base their identity on real or imagined scenarios of victimhood, but after 9/11, the strongest countries in the world were able to present themselves as victims. Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to think, speak and act as if that were the case – even in the absence of clear evidence. As we learn from psychoanalysis, victims always see themselves as innocent and pure as they reject all criticism and justify all vengeful hostility.
Three years after the economic debacle of 2008 the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests began – connected by the anger of the common person against the banks for manipulating the system and tanking the economy. The OWS protesters reminded us that, since the 2008 financial debacle, there has been no progress on significant reforms of the financial services industry (to reduce the risk of reoccurrence). Throughout the middle ages the Catholic Church sunk deeper into a pit of scandal and corruption. A German monk by the name of Martin Luther set out to reform the Catholic Church – and ended up sparking the Protestant Reformation. In response, the Catholic Church set in motion the counter-reformation. This counter-revolution was led by conservative forces whose aim was both to reform the church and to secure its traditions against the innovations of Protestant theology and against the more liberalizing effects of the Renaissance.
The greatest victory for the neoconservatives was not that they highjack the theories of neoliberalism and use them to promote their own political global agenda but the fact that they managed to make the world to see their ideas as necessary or even the best way, perhaps the only way, for the social order to be regulated. Neoliberalism in all horrible reality is a significant disruptive force that dominates policy, politics, and culture to the advantage of the select few, enabling concentration of wealth and power to breed totalitarian nation-states. The great prophets of neoliberal economic policies like Milton Friedman claim economic freedom is a necessary condition for political freedom; it appears neoliberalism is a breeding ground for totalitarian tendencies, not free will and democracy. The strategy of neoliberalism has been successful based upon the income and wealth of a privileged minority gaining political dominance.1
Erdogan once declared that democracy was “a vehicle, not a goal”, implying one could disembark at any time. In the 2007 election cycle the Turkish military opposes the then Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul as the AKP’s favourite candidate for president. Erdogan called for a new election; the AKP received 47% of the vote. This provided the renewed popular mandate for Gul to be the 11th president. Then Istanbul police uncovered an alleged plot to overthrow the government. The subsequent high profile trials have captivated Turkey from 2007 to 2013. The investigation promised to root out the “deep state” – an alleged network of media, intelligence and civilian officials along with journalists and academics. It is now claimed that significant portions of the evidence was fabricated. During this time Erdogan consolidated personal power and in the process transformed Turkish society. Since 2010 constitutional amendments gave AKP greater ability to pack the courts with sympathetic judges.
After 2002, the stability of AKP’s one party rule was welcomed by all segments of the economic elite since it immediately and fully committed itself to the neoliberal model. The democratic reversal expanded – in order to do business with the government oligarchs were encouraged to purchase media properties that could be counted on to faithfully report what the prime minster wanted. The AKP pursued a political strategy based on polarization. The Gezi Park protest which began as a protest to save green spaces became an outpouring of anger over police brutality, crony capitalism and the arrogance of power. The Turkish oligarchy that emerged as a result of the restructuring was part of the subsequent systemic corruption of the economic elites leading to political fragmentation. The protests against privatization were handled by marginalizing the discourse of the opposition group (i.e. labour) – basically taking advantage of the economic crisis to deepen neoliberal policies.2
In Poland, the hard right PiS paints itself as anti-establishment with a paranoiac vision of plots and agents. Their leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski long railed against the hidden Uklad or System, said to link key parts of the security services, media, political class and economic oligarchy. Kaczynski tapped into nationalism – nostalgia for a past era of material security – leveraging enthusiastic support for neoliberal reform. The demise of social democracy by scandals opened the way for his party to champion itself as protecting the transformation losers and helping them get back what is rightfully theirs. The PiS was elected based on opposition to reforms carried out by its rivals. This plan also included xenophobic hyper-nationalism along with policies that target disproportionate harm to women, immigrants and other marginalized groups. While the PiS leadership rail against the system, they are part of the political elite allowing the redistribution of wealth upwards.3
Rodrigo Duterte, a populist demagogue, assumed office of President of Philippines in June 2016. He was elected on a promise to rid the country of crime and drugs. He came across as challenging the elite with crude language. However, a day after the election he appeared on television with a popular televangelist and his inaugural speech was obscenity-free. He is a tough guy who is hyper-sensitive to criticism. To him human rights are not an issue as more than 3,000 have been killed in a drug war since he took power. He thinks out loud, in long rambling monologues, laced with inscrutable jokes and wild exaggeration. His is a style that leads to misunderstanding amongst journalists. Duterte’s spokesman has pleaded with the Presidential press to use its ‘creative imagination’ when interpreting Duterte’s comments. Duterte, elected by an angry Filipino people who were tired of being abused by society’s heartless elite, has not gone up against the oligarchs, rather, the neoliberal policies of previous administrations are for the most part being continued by his government.4
Over the decade prior to Trump’s victory, Steve Bannon developed an intricate multi-media machine into a sophisticated propaganda operation. Bannon identified Trump as being capable of delivering the ‘populist-nationalist idea’, and build a system to support the traditionalist movement to protect American culture. The alt-right coalesced around the Breitbart message – eight years of an African-American president had left whites disenfranchised. Breitbart and the Drudge Report moved views from the fringe into mainstream media via Fox news and Facebook. Breitbart helped focus election coverage on Trump’s immigration and grandiose job-creation rhetoric, and direct attention away from Clinton’s economic message and towards her email scandal. Bannon’s efforts, along with the Russian troll factories, recruited the necessary voting block needed to eke out an Electoral College victory – turned on little more than 100,000 votes in three crucial states that he won: Wisconsin, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Donald Trump harnessed the resentment and sense of victimhood of the Republican Party. Trump came across unceasingly pained, injured and aggrieved: the primaries were unfair, the debates were unfair, the general election was unfair. He gave a voice to that part of America that also feels aggrieved. Trump claimed there was a conspiracy against him supported by ‘fake’ news. Today Trump’s paranoid White House continues to see ‘deep state’ enemies on all sides. He became the representative of the idea of the new whiny right: waning power of whiteness, privilege, patriarchy, access, and the cultured surety that accrues to those in possession of such. Bannon and Trump who want to restrict the overall number of immigrants argue allowing lower-skilled immigrants into the country hurts job prospects and suppresses wages for American-born workers. Trump has staked his future on stoking racial division so that he can emerge as the hero of the ‘victimized’ whites.
By far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. How did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? There is a neoliberal counter-revolution based on polarization. Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than taking on the oligarchs who are ripping them off. Trump and his allies are again stoking racial tensions even as they seek to cut taxes on the rich by shedding affordable health care for everyone else, dismantle protection for workers and consumers, and tear down environmental protections that stop wealthy corporations from poisoning communities. Victim politics is cultivated for a reason – to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality.
1 Ideas matter…Perpetuating the Neoconservative Agenda Through the Economic Crisis Cycles. (21 May 2012) https://counternormal.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/ideas-matterperpetuating-the-neoconservative-agenda-through-the-economic-crisis-cycles/
2 Cook, Steven. How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again (21 July 2016) https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/07/how-erdogan-made-turkey-authoritarian-again/492374/
3 Rozworski, Michael. (16 Nov 2015) Poland’s Iron Consensus https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/11/poland-october-elections-kaczynski-law-justice-party/
4 Chen, Adrian. When a Populist Demagogue Takes Power. (21 Nov 2016) http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/21/when-a-populist-demagogue-takes-power