It’s the word of the summer:
You won’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, at least not yet.
It began its life as an epithet, hurled at me by my 7-year-old son.
“Don’t be victoriotic!”
I was guilty as charged. I had broken a long losing streak against him in the board game, “Sequence.” So I celebrated like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, wagging my finger, dancing, and sticking out my tongue at the vanquished second-grader.
In other words, I had taken the state of being victorious too far. I had over-celebrated the win. I was so immature, even a 7-year-old noticed.
In my own defense, I’m not the only one being victoriotic these days.
The news media is thoroughly dominated by Patient Zero of the victoriotic epidemic – Donald Trump. He’s constantly rubbing his primary victories, his wealth, and his hot wife in everyone’s faces.
Of course, he’s both a politician and absurdly rich – two major risk factors for victoriotic behavior. It’s now standard political strategy to blow any victory, no matter how small, into D-Day proportions, and rub it in your opponent’s face. It’s all in the name of “winning” the ever-shrinking news cycle.
And the rich? While it may be hard to believe, there once was a time when the wealthy downplayed their fortunes. Now much of America runs on the victoriotic speeches, books and philanthropy of billionaires, who tell the world how great the rest of us can be if we would only heed their advice on whatever topic they imagine themselves to be experts in: education, environmentalism, media, politics.
California, with more than its share of rich people and politicians, is our victoriotic global capital. And nobody does victoriotic like the Bay Area, with its new-money tech giants. Our social-media platforms basically exist for victoriotic pronouncements – about professional accomplishments, vacations, volunteerism and winsome children and pets.
California’s public sector is also experiencing a victorioticism bubble.
We are bragging about our job growth and the ever-larger global profile of our economy (and not talking so much about the fact that, accounting for cost of living and public benefits, we have America’s highest poverty rate). Our public universities are always described as the world’s best (even as they charge more, and provide less).
We congratulate ourselves on our open-mindedness about immigrants because we offer drivers’ licenses for the undocumented and health benefits for undocumented children (even as millions live in the shadows).
This summer has brought great anxiety and anger, as the less fortunate lash back at the more fortunate. Is the reason for the populist backlash the inequality itself? Or is it the endless victoriotic laps being run by society’s winners – on the plethora of media platforms that make the most fortunate among us more in-your-face visible than before?
Victoriotic behavior has many motivations. People seek validation, credibility, attention, celebrity, vindication, and even love. Medical research suggests human beings exaggerate our victories because of brain chemistry; victorioticism feels good to us, at least for a while.
And in a big state, people may feel they need to scream about even the slightest wins just to get noticed. There is so much competition – for jobs, for schools, for parking – that if you’re not victoriotic, you’re not trying. You may even be made to feel like you’re losing.
One school of thought is that this epidemic, like so many other social maladies, is the product of the ways we’re parenting our children. Today every major moment of our children’s lives can be documented with a phone, and shared, victoriotically, with friends, family and the whole world.
My son is annoyed by this, quite intensely. He calls out adult behavior for being victoriotic, and is careful not to make victoriotic statements himself.
Maybe you shouldn’t do a column about my word, he tells me. It would be victoriotic to brag about your son coining the term, he adds.
Yes, it would, kid. And I just did it anyway.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.