“Nikki Haley calls out Harvard in latest NH campaign stop”/Boston Globe/Erin Clark photo

Playing victim means never having to say you’re sorry

A Whining Nation from MAGAville to Harvard Yard

Jeffrey Denny
5 min readJan 7, 2024


Jeffrey Denny

What’s the difference between Nikki Haley and Claudine Gay?

Quite a bit, certainly.

Aside from both being smart, accomplished national leaders and Gen X women of color with immigrant parents, Gay would never be elected governor of South Carolina or a Trump-appointed UN ambassador. Or, jump cut, Trump presidential rival.

For her part, Haley would never research, write and publish a PhD dissertation titled, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics,” then rise to become Harvard president, the pinnacle of academia. Has Haley properly sourced everything she’s written or said?

But who wouldn’t love to see the Gay-Haley Freaky Friday?

What Haley and Gay do have in common, per recent news, is a gluten allergy to admitting they screwed up.

You know, saying flat-out, without weasel words, I was wrong. I’m sorry. I need to earn your forgiveness and re-earn your trust. I’m committed to doing that. Here’s what I’m going to do.

Haley instead blamed a voter she called a “Democratic plant” when she fumbled his simple question about the cause of the Civil War.

Then instead of owning her gaffe, Haley grabbed a shovel: “Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That’s the easy part of it. What I was saying was what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom.”

No, with all due respect, governor and ambassador, no matter what racist history-denying Southern voters you’re pandering to say, the Civil War was only about the freedom to enslave fellow Americans.

Gay also played the victim card.

Most of her resignation letter to Harvard had an elevated tone, if not mostly a bland performative word salad of corporate DEI balderdash and mission/vision/purpose/values sound and fury signifying that few will read the carefully honed blather or give a healthy hoot. (See New York Times Book Review critic A.O. Scott’s take.)

Maybe HR professionals or the $1,000/hour top lawyers who coached Gay’s “depends on the context” congressional answer to antisemitic hate on campus also helped craft or redline her farewell letter, and she’s satisfied with the ROI.

What pops out is how Gay blamed the blamers:

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

Surely, suffering personal racial hate IS frightening. That’s why Haley was so wrong as she cravenly danced with the unwashed, irredeemably racist Southern white devils in the Trump GOP base who proudly waved the Confederate flag on J6 and their fellow travelers and history-deniers. And still believe “The War of Northern Aggression” was about freedom, not slavery, because God and their internet truthers told them so.

But nothing in Gay’s letter copped to dancing around racial hate in the form of campus antisemitism that rivaled the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville and frightened many Jewish students. Or for failing uphold basic academic anti-plagiarism rules, whether in fact or in spirit — especially in the AI age — that students are punished for violating and should be.

Gay failed to write something like: “Harvard’s motto for nearly four centuries, Veritas, means above all truth. I quibbled and failed this timeless value that is even more important today because truth is at such great risk.”

Gay set a poor example for the future leaders of America that Harvard brags about.

Haley also set a poor example for a president by singing from the Trump song sheet of never being wrong and attacking when you are. Even when — especially when — caught dead to rights.

The never-wrong ethos seems endemic in America.

This goes from the mishigas left to the MAGA right: Nothing I do wrong is ever my fault. I’m a victim. How dare you bully the victim?

We even use our victim status to bully and victimize others.

What’s happening here? One possible answer:

“In America today, everyone’s a loser,” Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell writes. “We see ourselves as losers, at least. That’s according to recent polls suggesting that Americans usually believe their own side is being unfairly defeated or discriminated against — regardless of which side they happen to be on.”

The left and right both whine they’re being victimized more than the other guys, by the other guys. The left blames the right and its racist capitalist white Western patriarchal power structure. The right blames the left and its elite Deep State coastal urban Socialist power structure.

We also blame our upbringing … TikTok, Instagram, X and Facebook … Covid … rapacious corporations … Trump or Biden … politicians, our political system, Washington and government … the economy … the system … our rotted society … root causes of rising crime and social maladies … colleges … the lack of affordable college … just for starters.

“Whatever a group’s actual level of ‘privilege’ (or lack thereof), everyone sees themselves as underprivileged, put-upon, low on the totem pole,” Rampell writes.

From privileged legacy white undergrads getting free-ride $250,000 Ivy degrees to white Republican chamber of commerce/country club businessmen banking $2.5 million a fiscal quarter, their richest country in the world has become a nation of snowflakes melting on the warm soil of our grievance culture and “oppression Olympics.”

We surely never blame ourselves for our problems.

Self-reflection, calling ourselves out as we delight in calling out others, can be terrifying, traumatizing and self-bullying/victimizing.

Fortunately, nobody is allowed to blame us for our problems.

Even better, we’re lousy with coddlers who coo — often for looks, likes, fake love or money — that it’s not our fault when we say or do bad stupid things that hurt others and ourselves.

We prefer emotional comfort food over the raw kale of owning, learning from and correcting our mistakes. Even if we’re clearly at fault, it’s emotionally unhealthy to bully-victimize ourselves for being human, imperfect, and silly.

Like how a Florida woman was outraged that the holiday Reese’s peanut butter cups weren’t extruded at the factory with the goofy seasonal faces as displayed on the wrappers. Instead of laughing at herself, she played victim, demanding $5 million from Hershey in a “class action suit” for false advertising.

America’s victim culture makes it easy to avoid apologizing.

No wonder Nikki Haley and Claudine Gay refused to apologize for their gaffes, even if doing so would help them and the causes they represent.

But it’s also easy to come clean.

For instance, Book Nerd Mommy offers “10 Excellent Picture Books About Apologizing and Forgiveness.”

“Apologies can be incredibly powerful and they can also sometimes be incredibly hard,” says Clarissa, the Book Nerd Mommy. “I believe they are also partly a skill that can be worked on and developed.

Clarissa adds, “Alongside apologies is the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness is also something that is incredibly powerful and not only helps us to be better as individuals, but helps make the world a better place.”

Note to America.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.



Jeffrey Denny

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.