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  • Reverend James Squire

The Innocent Victim

One of the most difficult psychological concepts to explain is the power of the innocent victim. Power is a word that doesn’t juxtapose well with innocent. Normally we think of three positions that define our relationships with others. We can be one down, or shared power in the relationship, or someone who is one up. An example of a one down position is someone who has a boss who that person has to please. Shared power in relationships is just that, when two people are communicating as equals. This is seen as the best kind of relationship to have where two people feel empowered by each other. This is often seen as a time when the work of therapy has been done and the person feels independent and ideally interdependent on others. A person can also feel as though they are one up on others. It is one of the loneliest positions to have. It is like the teacher or student who seems to know it all where they know the answer to any question and are off putting to others.

R. D. Laing, a psychiatrist, wrote a book, The Politics of Experience, in which he posits that countries and interpersonal relationships share a common experience that just as individuals work to get along with others so do countries. When I taught political ethics, I dealt with the one up. shared, and a one down relationship that involve power, who has it, and how do I get it.

It would have been much easier to understand the power of the innocent victim if I was teaching ethics in the time of Trump. People think that Trump is not very smart. He doesn’t read. He is notorious for not reading intelligence reports. He wanted more visuals. He is smart the way that we wish that he wasn’t. We see how he moves people to places where we would not want them to go. Think January 6. I want to focus on just one of his foibles. It is his desire to balance that he is the best and smartest of anyone. “I am a genius!” with being the innocent victim. He a paradox, a self-contradiction on terms. He will make America Great Again and he is the opposite as he presents himself as the victim of various witch hunts. “I did nothing wrong! I will be your revenge!”

The question that everyone wants an answer to is how do his poll numbers go up with each crime that he commits and where we know history will not treat him well? Notice first, when necessary, he will make “we comments” and not “I comments.” The dynamic is “I, your follower, may be inferior but we will feel great if we follow you.” It is the same dynamic as why Philly fans are so loud in their cheering. They could be having a difficult week, but when the Philly’s win, I win. The fans are rewarded as well when the players indicate that they are the best fans in the world. The Philly’s identity becomes the fans’ identity. The opposite is true as well that when the Philly’s lose, I lose!

Let’s just take this week as an example where a judge has given Trump a gag order to protect the process of his court case. Watch how Trump vacillates between two extremes, I am powerful seen in the money I made (didn’t make) and the judge took away my rights to free speech. I am a victim here when I did nothing wrong. Even though Trump was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, he has found the victim spot in our culture. His base no matter how much money they have or don’t have are motivated to follow him. You must get into the Trump voters’ shoes to understand the paradox. It is not my idea. It comes straight from Freakonomics written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The book tells us why we make irrational decisions and why conventional wisdom is often wrong, and what motivates us to do what we do.

The authors’ point is that we think that we do things based on morality and ideals when incentives and disincentives tend to motivate us. You guessed it. Here it comes! “Show me the money.” There is a chapter in the book with the intriguing title of “Why do drug dealers live with their mothers?” We think that we believe that we always do things through our lens of morality and ideology, when we really do things with money or power on our mind. Think House of Representatives. The authors did a research study on why drug dealers will stay with a job, person, or dream where they are used and perceived as victims used by a drug czar. If they see what might be theirs like the guy at the top who is riding around in a luxurious Cadillac, they will be the innocent victim. So, Trump is the drug czar and his followers are the drug dealers. “I am going to Washington to get rid of the swamp. They aren’t interested in hurting me as much as hurting you.” We are all helpless victims (stay with me, helpless victims like I am) and I will make You and America great again. He works the innocent victim side of the coin and combines it with greatness. This is the same dynamic as a cult.

That is why Trump’s week has been so terrible. The chickens have come home to roost. He isn’t as powerful or wealthy as he seems. That is why he hid his tax returns. In fact, he is the opposite. He has to keep that illusion alive. He really doesn’t have any policies or ideas per se. During the last Republican Convention, the politicians did not have a platform for the first time ever, they had Trump. He told them what they were going to do. It really isn’t the Republican Party as we know it. It is Trumpism. We need and flourish with a real Republican Party based in policy and not performance.

You give me your innocent victimhood and I will give you greatness in whatever way you measure it.

There is a book that I read years ago and entered into conversation with the author, David Callahan, The Cheating Culture. Are you wondering as well why Trump is so popular with his group? Callahan did a study on the motivation of the American people. What he discovered was very helpful in understanding the motivation and incentive in our culture. He indicates in his research that it is financial hard times as well as the divisions in our country between the haves and have nots that inform us and our behavior. These divisions have gradually gotten rid of the notion of the level playing field which is at the heart of political ethics embedded in the American dream. As we have lost this notion of equality, we have sacrificed our values and morality. His concluding premise is given the choice between integrity and financial security or advancement no matter who it hurts or helps, we will more often than not choose financial security. That is what Trump knew and still knows. If you don’t have it, whatever the American dream for you happens to be, it is because you have been an innocent victim like me.

His followers are the drug dealers and he is the drug czar. We aren’t the only nation to be led down this road. Just ask General Milley in his final address before his retirement. We need to rekindle our values and ethics and not those of “a want-to-be dictator.” Yes, the innocent victim is one of the most powerful dynamics of one’s personal psychology and is a cautionary tale for us and other nations around the world that share in the political values of our Constitution.

I am willing to bet that Trump has never read the Constitution. We do know that Tommy Tuberville didn’t know the three parts of our government when he was asked that question when running for Senator in Alabama while living in Florida. If he did, he would not put the bravest of the brave in our military leadership in jeopardy.

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