Writing before the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy declared his presidential candidacy, Theodore Kupfer considers the diagnosis of America’s social ills that Ramaswamy sets forth in his book Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence. Kupfer writes:
Whereas Americans once took pride in their ability to overcome long odds, now they tell and believe stories about “what they can’t do,” from racial minorities living in immiserated towns to southerners lamenting the lost Confederacy to aspiring college students eagerly workshopping sob stories with admissions counselors. Declaring oneself a victim might seem disempowering, but people keep doing it, perhaps because victim status confers advantages on those who can gain official recognition.
Ramaswamy argues that a victimhood complex is contributing to national decline in America, but not all such complexes are enervating. Nazis rose to power blaming “Jewish Bolshevism” for the German people’s interwar misfortune, while Communists sparked revolutions across the world by blaming capitalist exploitation for human misery. Ramaswamy fears that the U.S. has fallen behind China in educational excellence and military preparedness, and yet the Chinese government and its hardline nationalist supporters often refer to their nation’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of an imperial West. Past alleged wrongs can be a powerful motivator.
A more precise statement of the problem is that Americans regard themselves not just as victims but as victims of one another.