President Donald Trump is the reigning king of American victimhood.
He is unceasingly pained, injured, aggrieved.
The primaries were unfair. The debates were unfair. The general election was unfair.
“No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he laments.
People refuse to reach past his flaws — which are legion! — and pat him on the back. People refuse to praise his minimal effort and minimal efficacy. They refuse to ignore that the legend he created about himself is a lie. People’s insistence on truth and honest appraisal is so annoying. It’s all so terribly unfair.
It is in this near perfect state of perpetual aggrievement that Trump gives voice to a faction of America that also feels aggrieved. Trump won because he whines. He whines in a way that makes the weak feel less vulnerable and more vicious. He makes feeling sorry for himself feel like fighting back.
In this way he was a perfect reflection of the new Whiny Right. Trump is its instrument, articulation, embodiment. He’s not so much representative of it but of an idea — the waning power of whiteness, privilege, patriarchy, access, and the cultural and economic surety that accrues to the possessors of such. Trump represents their emerging status of victims-in-their-own-minds.
The way they see it, they are victims of coastal and urban liberals and the elite institutions — economic, education and entertainment — clustered there. They are victims of an economy evolving in ways, both technical and geographic, that cuts them out or leaves them behind. They are victims of immigration and shifting American demographics. They are victims of shifting, cultural mores. They are victims of Washington.
No one speaks to these insecurities like the human manifestation of insecurity himself: Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is their death rattle: That unsettling sound a body makes when death nears.
But, Trump’s whining is not some clever Machiavellian tactic, precisely tuned for these times. Trump’s whining is genuine. He pretends to be ferocious, but is actually embarrassingly fragile. His bravado is all illusion. The lion is a coward. And he licks his wounds until they are raw.
Now, pour into this hollow man Steve Bannon’s toxic, apocalyptic nationalism and his professed mission — “deconstruction of the administrative state” — and you get a perfect storm of extreme orthodoxy and extreme insecurity.
Trump becomes a tool of those in possession of legacy power in this country — and those who feel that power is their rightful inheritance — who are pulling every possible lever to enshrine and cement that power. Suppressing the vote. Restricting immigration. Putting the brakes on cultural inclusion.
Make America great again. Turn back the clock to a time when privileges of whiteness were supreme and unassailable, misogyny was simply viewed as an extension of masculinity, women got back-alley abortions and worked for partial wages, coal was king and global warming was purely academic, and trans people weren’t in our bathrooms or barracks. The good old days.
Now the power of the presidency is deployed in this pursuit. The only thing that holds the line against absolute calamity is the fact that Trump lacks focus and hates work.
I have found that a close cousin of extreme caviling is sloth. As Newsweek puts on this week’s cover, he is a “Lazy Boy.”
He may keep himself busy with things he considers to be work, but his definition of that word and mine do not seem to be in alignment. Twitter tantrums, obsessive television viewing, holding campaign-style rallies to feed his narcissistic need for adulation. Those things to me do not signal competence, but rather profound neurosis. True productivity leaves little space for this extreme protestation.
And, not only is he a lazy whiner, he’s also a projectionist: He is so consumed by his insecurities that he projects them onto others. Trump branded Ted Cruz a liar, when he himself wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him in the face. Trump blasted Hillary Clinton as being crooked, when he himself was crooked. Trump sneered at President Barack Obama’s work ethic — among many other things — but Trump’s own work ethic has been found severely wanting.
In 2015, Trump said, “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done.” He continued: “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.”
Trump has spent an unseemly amount of time away from the White House, playing golf, and is at this very moment on a 17-day vacation.
Trump is like the unfaithful spouse who constantly accuses the other of infidelity because the guilt of his or her own sins has hijacked their thinking and consumed their consciousness. The flaws he sees are the ones he possesses.
This projection of vice, claiming of victimhood, and complaining about vanishing privileges make Trump an ideal frontman for the kind of cultural anxiety, desperation and anger that disguises itself as a benign debate about public policy.
Charles M. Blow is a columnist for The New York Times.