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Bret Stephens: Who Did This to Us?

phlatsphilphlatsphil Posts: 14,632 AG
Received this in an email from a right wing friend....

The last two paragraphs are interesting.

By Bret Stephens

Aug. 29, 2016 7:24 p.m. ET

Bernard Lewis once made the point that there are two basic ways in which people and nations respond to adversity and decline. The first, the great historian wrote in 2002, is to ask “Who did this to us?” The second is, “What did we do wrong?” One question leads to self-pity; the other to self-help. One disavows personal responsibility and moral agency; the other commands them. One is a recipe for economic failure and political squalor; the other for success.

Mr. Lewis, who recently turned 100, was writing about the Islamic world’s destructive habit of blaming its ills on imperialism, Jews and other assorted bogeymen. But his test also applies to other regimes and regions, not to mention political parties and movements, from Vladimir Putin to Black Lives Matter. So let’s take a tour of the world.

Begin with Turkey. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is again at war with the Kurds, thanks to Ankara’s violent crackdown on Kurdish protesters in 2014. It has a terrorism problem courtesy of Mr. Erdogan’s previous willingness to turn his country into a jihadist entrepôt. And it recently had a coup attempt, the result of Mr. Erdogan’s suppression of his erstwhile fellow travelers in the Gulenist movement.

But don’t expect Mr. Erdogan to offer up any mea culpas. He’s conducting the greatest political purge of the 21st century, and has released 38,000 convicts from his prisons to make room for his political enemies. Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria—supposedly to fight ISIS—has become an opportunity to expand the war against the Kurds. The Turkish media is abuzz with “reports” that assorted American military men were behind the coup.

Mr. Erdogan is a “Who did this to us?” man, and it shows in Turkey’s fast descent from beacon of Muslim secularism and democracy to another paranoid Middle Eastern regime. It’s the same story in Iran and Russia, which was to be expected, but also increasingly in China, which wasn’t.

The post-Maoist regime inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping understood that the People’s Republic had been brought to ruin by its own Great Helmsman. By contrast, the post-Dengist regime of Xi Jinping is on a constant hunt for scapegoats. Last year’s stock market crash was blamed on short sellers and Tibetan separatists. China’s maritime aggressions against the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia are the result of the U.S. “stoking tensions.”

Such rampant political blame-shifting is a more telling indicator of long-term decline than any reading of Chinese economic data, much of which is largely bogus anyway.

But “Who did this to us?” is not just a phenomenon of the developing world. June’s Brexit vote was based on the view that the root of the U.K.’s problems lay with the bureaucracy in Brussels. That’s false. It’s Westminster that’s to blame for Britain’s high taxes, rising home prices, mediocre social services and, if you consider it a problem, growing number of immigrants (the bulk of whom are Chinese, Indians, Australians, Spaniards, Poles and Americans, in case you’re wondering).

Or take the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement, ignited by the small fable of Michael Brown’s innocence, has metastasized into the big lie of America, land of the irredeemably racist. For BLM and its cadres, there is no moral agency in the black community, no choices African-Americans can make for themselves to shape their own destiny for good or ill. There is merely a nonstop conspiracy by the structures of white power to keep black people down.

Now it’s almost amusing to hear the same BLM sympathizers react indignantly to Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that black lives are as hellish as BLM says they are, and that blacks would have nothing to lose by voting for him. What about the huge black middle class? What about black political empowerment and cultural influence? What about black leadership roles in the police, the military, academia, corporate America? The myth of victimization survives only as long as the myth’s propagator believes he’s at no risk of becoming a genuine victim.

Which brings us to America’s newest victim class: the Trump voter.

When the history of Mr. Trump’s candidacy is written, historians will marvel at how so many people rallied to a candidate intent on treating them as losers. Losers in war and peace, losers on trade and immigration, losers to China and Mexico, losers to “the establishment” and “the globalists.” Mr. Trump’s political ideas may vary from day to day, but his consistent message is that Americans are one giant victim class. Like Mr. Erdogan or Mr. Putin, he asks not “What did we do wrong,” but “Who did this to us?” It is every demagogue’s favorite question.

It used to be that Americans looked askance at people who pointed fingers at everyone but themselves. It used to be, too, that Republicans had no time for Democrats who tried to impose a victimization narrative everywhere they looked. Not least among the outcomes of this election season is that America, too, may yet fail Professor Lewis’s timeless political test.


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