Ruben Navarrette: The Grand Ol' Party — of victims

Summary: Politics is about storytelling. The best narratives inspire people to conquer the world. Unfortunately, at the moment, the only story that Republicans want to tell is one where the world is out to get you.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

SAN DIEGO — The official slogan of the Donald Trump-Mike Pence campaign of 2020 is: "Promises Made, Promises Kept."

But anyone who saw last week's Republican National Convention would think the campaign's real message is: "Victims Are Us."

These days, those on the right make up the party of the wronged. If you think the world has treated you unfairly, or your fellow Americans have been unkind, this is the club for you. If you agree with the Trump Justice Department — under Attorney General William Barr — that white people are being systematically discriminated against and kept out of Yale University in much the same way that James Meredith was barred from the University of Mississippi in the early 1960s for being black, be sure to register as a Republican. Simply put, if your favorite beverage is "whine," the new (but not necessarily improved) GOP is where you belong.

Just listen to the folks on the presidential ticket.

"Your vote will decide whether we protect law abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens," said President Donald Trump in accepting his party's nomination. "And this election will decide whether we will defend the American Way of Life, or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it."


In his acceptance speech, Vice President Mike Pence praised his boss for withstanding "unrelenting attacks" from critics. He also sounded the alarm over Democratic nominee Joe Biden who, Pence claimed, supports "open borders; sanctuary cities; and free lawyers and health care for illegal immigrants." Anyone who wants "America to remain America" must vote Republican, said the vice president.

Other convention speakers also hit on the victimhood theme.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley fretted over civil unrest and warned of the dangers of "political correctness and cancel culture."

And Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., lamented that Americans are bombarded with "racially, economically and culturally polarizing news" and warned that Democrats would create a "socialist utopia" full of "pain and misery."

I didn't appreciate them in their day, but I miss the old Grand Old Party. Republicans used to stand tall and didn't waste time complaining about how they got a raw deal. They just did what needed to be done.

I'm not even talking about President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, in 1957, gave Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus — a Democrat — a civics lesson on the supremacy of the federal government when he dispatched to Little Rock regular army soldiers with the 101st Airborne to forcibly integrate Central High School.

I'd settle for the Republicans who came after Ike — those in the World War II generation. They survived the Spanish flu, withstood the Great Depression, and went off to Europe and the Pacific to defeat fascism and preserve democracy — all without fussing, complaining, hiring a lawyer, or feeling sorry for themselves. They stood tall because they stood for causes larger than themselves.

In 1980, it was not uncommon to hear Republicans who rallied around President Ronald Reagan argue that people should stop complaining about their disadvantages and making excuses for their misbehavior. Instead, Republicans said back then, the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.


Today, judging from the convention speeches, the party of Donald Trump thinks Americans are being victimized by China, mob violence, trade deals, affirmative action, political correctness, media bias, the so-called deep state, and just about everything under the sun.

Members of this latest generation of conservatives who back Trump — largely Generation X'ers born in the 1960s and 1970s — spend most of their time in the fetal position. They never stop talking — or tweeting — about how bad they have it, and how unfair the world has been to them and their kind. The white males among them are condemned to spend their days believing that their lives might have been brighter if they hadn't — because of racial preferences — been rejected by Stanford to make room for a wise Latina.

To be sure, the Democratic Party also has its fair share of this pathetic and defeatist cohort. Those folks usually wind up joining labor unions.

But, in 2020, it is Republicans who are making the most serious pitch for anyone who sees himself, or herself, as a victim.

Politics is about storytelling. The best narratives inspire people to conquer the world. Unfortunately, at the moment, the only story that Republicans want to tell is one where the world is out to get you.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

Related Topics: DONALD TRUMP
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