Victim-blaming may feel like a modern concept, but it’s actually not at all. While the term “victim-blaming” hasn’t been around all that long, victims of crimes and tragedies have long been blamed by political leaders for said crime or tragedy. Politicians have a long history of blaming the victims of a national tragedy, either to further their political agenda or to sidestep actually talking about the real issue. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common practice in politics and is not necessarily shocking. Politicians have frequently bent the truth to serve their agenda. In fact, Donald’s Trump’s administration has been caught lying about several historical facts, from causes of the Civil War to inauguration crowd sizes.
As a whole, the media must respond to national disasters with sensitivity. The media often succeeds in this task. In many cases, television shows or films have been altered in the wake of tragedy. However, politicians and pundits don’t always approach tragedy with the level of sensitivity appropriate for these devastating events. Below are times politicians straight up blamed the victims of tragedies.
The Event: 2018 Florida School Shooting
What He Said: "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!" Trump stated in a Tweet sent out just one day after the February 14, 2018 shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida.
The tweet was widely condemned online and seen as a form of victim blaming, as Trump appeared to be scolding students, teachers, and community members for not reporting the shooter earlier. Social media users responded with venom, and occasional profanity, over the tweet. In addition to calling out the president for a lack of sensitivity, many pointed out a YouTube vlogger did report the shooter to the FBI. However, officials largely ignored the concerns.
The Event: Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico
What He Said: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble. Its old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well,” said Trump during a series of tweets.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane, hit Puerto Rico and devastated the island. The death toll was estimated to be over 1,000 people and the losses are estimated to be over $100 billion. Many saw Trump’s tweets about the disaster as victim-blaming Puerto Rico because of its “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” rather than addressing the fact that a serious hurricane hit the island and caused devastation.
- Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain
The Event: The 1999 shooting at Columbine High School
What He Said: “It strikes me that an extremely small number of young people today have gotten on a very destructive path. They have headed down the road of anger and violence. They have not been acculturated with the kind of gentlemanliness and gentlewomanliness, not inculcated with religious faith and discipline, maybe a lack of values or whatever ― somehow it did not take. Maybe their parents tried. Maybe they did not,” said Jeff Sessions on the Senate floor.
Following the mass shooting at Columbine High School, Jeff Sessions, who served as Alabama’s Senator at the time but now serves as US Attorney General, blamed culture in general and possibly the two shooters' parents for the disaster.
Sessions went on to say:
“They are able to hook into the Internet and play video games that are extraordinarily violent, that cause the blood pressure to rise and the adrenaline level to go up, games that cause people to be killed and the players to die themselves. It is a very intense experience. They are able to get into Internet chat rooms and, if there are no nuts or people of the same mentality in their hometown, hook up with people around the country. They are able to rent from the video store ― not just go down and see Natural Born Killers or The Basketball Diaries ― but they are able to bring it home and watch it repeatedly.”
Sessions was widely criticized, both for blaming the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and for not waiting until an investigation was complete to point fingers.
The Event: Hurricane Katrina
What He Said: “Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Michael Brown told CNN.
At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Brown served as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is more commonly known as FEMA. When blame fell to Brown for the poor handling of emergency relief efforts, Brown blamed the citizens of New Orleans by saying the above statement and elaborating with:
“I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart-wrenching to me because, you know, the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. So, we've got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it's for their own good.”
Brown insisted he was being made a scapegoat for the slow federal response. Only two weeks after the hurricane, Brown resigned from his post.
The Event: September 11th, 2001
What Was Said: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked," Jerry Falwell said on an episode of The 700 Club that aired days after 9-11, "And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
Pat Roberson, also present for the episode, was quick to agree with the statement. Two days later, Falwell apologized for his remarks. Falwell claimed he held "no one other than the terrorists and the people and nations who have enabled and harbored them" responsible and claimed to "sincerely regret" his comments. Falwell also argued some of his statements were taken out of context.
- Photo: Ali Shaker / Wiki Commons
The Event: Widespread workplace harassment (ongoing)
What He Said: “I think what he’s saying is, Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman, she wouldn’t allow herself to be objected to it, and by the way, you should take it up with Human Resources. She definitely would [address it with HR] as a strong person. At the same time I don’t think she would be subjected to that. I think that's the point he was making and I think he did so well,” Eric Trump said CBS’s This Morning.
In an interview with USA Today, Donald Trump was asked what he’d like Ivanka Trump to do if she were being harassed, to which Trump responded, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.”
When many pointed out that some women don’t have the freedom or luxury to simply leave a job due to sexual harassment, Eric Trump stepped in to defend his father by making the above statements. Eric Trump’s defense read as even more offensive than Donald Trump’s original words for many, as Eric Trump seemed to imply only weaker women are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Photo: Gag Skidmore / Wiki Commons
The Event: Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston, Texas.
What She Said: “I don't believe Hurricane Harvey is God's punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than climate change,” tweeted Ann Coulter.
Ann Coulter is a conservative political commentator, who is know for saying extreme and sometimes outlandish things. In this case, Coulter implied Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston, Texas was due to the fact that the city elected a “lesbian mayor.” Coulter was referring to Annise Parker, who served as mayor from 2010 to 2016.
While Coulter may have meant this tweet in jest, joking about a hurricane that took the lives of 82 people read as offensive to many.