Claiming victimization is now a primary political tool on the left and right.
Today's read: 6 minutes.
A few days ago, I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across a short video that made me pause.
The clip was of Dennis Prager, the conservative thought leader responsible for Prager U, one of the most popular political YouTube channels on the planet. In the clip, Prager was being interviewed on Newsmax, and was making a point about how the economy was facing ruin in part because of how we were allowing Covid-19 to dictate our lives.
"During the AIDS crisis, can you imagine if gay men and intravenous drug users, or the vast majority of people with AIDS, had been pariahs the way the non-vaccinated are? It would have been inconceivable," he said.
The clip, to anyone who lived through the AIDS epidemic or learned about it in history class, should have been rather stunning. Gay men, people who had AIDS, and intravenous drug users were — of course — all pariahs throughout the HIV-AIDS crisis and indeed throughout most of American history. While the video made some waves on Twitter, it didn't spark much writing. But Prager did get some friendly fire from the right, most notably from Bulwark editor Jonathan Last, who wrote one of the only pieces I saw about it.
Last smartly dug up the things conservatives used to say about people with AIDS, in which they were very much made to be pariahs. This included Rush Limbaugh insisting they deserved to die, or Bill Buckley suggesting everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed to be identifiable as such. Journalist Ashton Pittman dug up this photo of a front page issue from Jerry Falwell’s magazine Moral Majority Report:
These, of course, were three of the most prominent conservatives to ever live, and likely people Prager has idolized, listened to and looked up to for decades.
I responded to Prager’s comment myself on Twitter, with a stunned, "I… I just… what?" And one of the responses I got to the clip was telling: "Funny I dont recall gay men and drug users with aids not being able to work or eat at restaurants, among other things."
I try to regularly engage my Twitter followers, and as in Tangle, very much like to engage with criticism of my work. But for whatever reason this tweet just really got under my skin.
So I shared the tweet with this comment: "The perpetual victimhood in certain online spaces has now convinced the unvaccinated that they are being treated worse than gay people with AIDS in the 80s and 90s. The kind of historical ignorance and obsessive grievance it takes to reach this conclusion is hard to fathom. I really, truly do not have knee-jerk reactions to people who choose not to get vaccinated. I think you're being shortsighted and unwise but I can understand it. It's this whole ‘we're victims’ charade that has led to this kind of bullshit that really irritates me."
Pretty quickly, the tweet became one of my most "liked" of the week, and I assume that the positive engagement was largely driven by my left-leaning followers.
The user I was tweeting about continued to engage me and, to his credit, made as good an argument as one can while trying to defend an indefensible opinion: He asked when the government required AIDS patients to out themselves in order to work or use private businesses, or when Americans had to carry around a card to say they were AIDS-free.
The answer, of course, is that they didn't do any of those things. The government didn't have to create mandates or legislation or "AIDS-free cards" because discriminating against someone who was gay or had AIDS was so socially acceptable that you could simply fire them with little or no fear of legal or social reprisals. Of course, the whole comparison is even more specious because, as you hopefully know by now, Covid-19 and HIV don't pass from one person to another in the same way, so our public health responses to them shouldn’t be the same! Ironically, of course, a lot of people during the HIV epidemic thought it spread as Covid-19 actually does.
My point here, though, isn't to get into a debate about whether gay people in the 80’s were treated worse than the unvaccinated are today. The larger issue, the thing that is leaving me more angry than usual these days, is the perpetual grievance culture — the nonstop Victimhood Olympics.