View from Rue Saint-Georges

Don’t Tread on Me

When we’re all victims, we’re all enemies

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | October 10, 2018
Flickr/shawncalhoun

Over the past week, I could not stop thinking about the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and the fissures it not only exposed but widened in our already dangerously polarized society. It seemed clear to me that this man had disqualified himself from the position through body language and comportment alone during the hearing. I tweeted as much, and was greeted with an immediate backlash. Within an hour, scores of people unfollowed me—people who until then had presumably felt that we held some number of viewpoints in common. Others chose to engage me in debate, but when they did, I was shocked at how wounded they felt. This was no mere disagreement—by criticizing Kavanaugh, a few people told me, I was harming an innocent man.

I used to think that the culture of victimization was in large part cynical and opportunistic, especially when the victim card was played by a member of the dominant majority. But now I’m not so certain. Lately, it feels as though we all think of ourselves as underdogs, victims fighting the good fight against some powerful and unscrupulous oppressor. As deeply troubling as I found his demeanor, when Senator Lindsey Graham took the microphone and said with a straight face, “I know I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should shut up, but I will not shut up,” a part of me realized that he was being serious. His embrace of the language and public performance of grievance struck me as an important turn in the public discourse. But perhaps I’m being naïve. Perhaps there has always been a strain of southern senator who conceives of himself and his cause this way. What is clear is that we have arrived at a point where there is no honest way to disagree, let alone persuade; so long as you are a victim, you cannot be wrong—you certainly have no duty to be self-reflective—until the oppressor has been silenced or eliminated.

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