The story of a local Republican comparing coronavirus vaccine rules to the Holocaust seemed, at first glance, to have a limited shelf life.
After the story was reported in this newspaper, state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen — who wore a yellow Star of David and also said, preposterously, that “we’re all Jews” — doubled down, but then later issued an apology after there were some calls for him to resign. The end — right?
Equating yourself to Holocaust victims is obviously both offensive and delusional. This is true almost no matter what is happening to you. But it’s especially so when all that’s happening is the government is asking you, but not forcing you, to take a potentially pandemic-ending vaccine.
But there’s a bigger issue here — one that keeps happening, to the point of becoming an epidemic of its own. It’s that half our political system, the Republican half, is becoming consumed with victimhood and grievance.
Walsh is not the first GOPer to evoke history’s most discriminated-against peoples in recent months. Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene compared a temporary mask rule in the U.S. House to “a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany” (she also later apologized).
The day after Walsh paraded around wearing his yellow star, some Republicans gathered in New York, also wearing Jewish stars. Their point was that the way the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters are being treated is also like the Holocaust.
It goes on. The GOP’s nominee for governor last year in Washington state, former Republic police Chief Loren Culp, likened himself to Jim-Crow-protesting Rosa Parks — though what he had done was oppose a new gun law that prohibits teenagers from buying assault rifles.
State Rep. Robert Sutherland of Granite Falls, who is one of our chief election conspiracists, also compared himself last year to Rosa Parks when he was protesting coronavirus rules. Walsh has also likened his protest against COVID rules to how African Americans were segregated back in the Jim Crow South, as well as to Spartacus, a Roman slave who led a doomed uprising against his oligarchic masters.
The narcissism on display here is one thing. But the persecution complex is off the charts. I’ve often wondered where in the world this comes from — as a politician, by definition you’re perched pretty high up the ladder of societal power. How have they instead internalized that they’re as oppressed as the Nazi-era Jews, the post-Reconstruction African Americans, the enslaved peoples back to the beginning of civilization?
Former President Donald Trump was the one who cut right to the bone of the modern GOP:
“We are all victims,” he told a crowd after he lost the election. “Everybody here. All these thousands of people tonight. They’re all victims. Every one of you.”
Inspiring, isn’t it? Also: How is that the least bit conservative? The GOP used to talk about personal responsibility. Now it’s all how the system is rigged and you’re all being screwed — historically screwed.
It’s no coincidence that the week before Walsh donned his yellow star, Sutherland and another local GOP politician, Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, made a pilgrimage to the national mecca of Republican resentment, the conspiracy-fueled “audit” of election ballots in Arizona. When the victimhood runs this deep, you can’t lose an election — you have to have been cheated.
Political scientists have been exploring where this all comes from, and why. The victimology has taken a strong hold. Recently the Pew Research Center found that Republican voters say the two groups most likely to face heavy discrimination in America today are white people and Christians — more so than Black people.
It seems like a different planet. UW political science professor Christopher Parker theorizes, in a new paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, that what’s at work here is something called “status threat” — an anxiety that social change is happening too fast.
That in turn can prompt a sense of existential crisis: If you fear that the very way of life in America is slipping away, then channeling Spartacus or wearing a Jewish star may make more sense to you. Status threat can also fuel “paranoia and conspiracy” as a means of explaining rapid, unwelcome changes, he writes.
“Beginning with the Tea Party, the GOP has permitted this reactionary movement to hijack a major party,” Parker concludes.
Is that too sweeping? Maybe, but consider Taylor Greene. Her punishment for airing one hyperbolic resentment after another is that she has become a right-wing rock star. Though brand new to Congress, in the first quarter of this year she raked in $3.2 million in donations — about as much as the $3.4 million raised by Washington state’s 10 congressional representatives combined, who have 98 years in the House among them.
More than 100 of Greene’s donations came from citizens right here in Washington state — 2,000 miles away from her district on the border of Georgia and Alabama.
Politics sure doesn’t follow the old guidelines anymore. Normally this would have been a week of shame for Jim Walsh. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, instead, local Republicans may have just discovered their next rock star.