The Historical Danger Of The Tea Party
Populist movements like the Tea Party are dangerous in times of economic instability. We have to look no farther than Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany to see how oligarchs can encourage frightened masses to revolt. In the case of the Tea Party those oligarchs are the Koch brothers and their front man Dick Armey. Historical Sociologist Michael Mann defines Fascism:
Fascism is the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.
- Transcendence: Belief that the state can transcend social conflict and blend all social classes into a harmonious whole. Belief in the power of political ideology to transcend human nature and produce a better world.
- Cleansing (political): Silencing the political opposition so that the transcendent aims of fascism can be realized. Restricting the freedom of speech, outlawing opposition parties, imprisoning political opponents (or worse) and indoctrinating youth in fascist principles.
- Statism: Promoting a high degree of state intervention in personal, social, or economic matters. Belief that the state can accomplish anything.
- Nationalism: Belief in the inherent unity of a population with distinct linguistic, physical, or cultural characteristics and its identification with a nation-state. Belief that the nation possesses special attributes that make it superior to other nations in some or all ways.
- Paramilitarism: “Grass roots”, populist squadrism aimed at coercing opponents and obtaining popular approbation by acting as a supplementary police force.
Does this sound familiar?
The “tea party” movement is, in my view, a mirror image of
the Republican Party generally. There are some diverse, heterodox
factions which compose a small, inconsequential minority of it (various
libertarian, independent, and Reagan Democrat types), but it is
dominated — in terms of leadership, ideology, and the vast majority of
adherents — by the same set of beliefs which have long shaped the
American Right: Reagan-era domestic policies, blinding American
exceptionalism and nativism, fetishizing American wars, total disregard
for civil liberties, social and religious conservatism, hatred of the
minority-Enemy du Jour (currently: Muslims), allegiance to
self-interested demagogic leaders, hidden exploitation by corporatist
masters, and divisive cultural tribalism.
Glenn’s written a widely circulated piece this morning in which he rightly points out, as I and others have as well, that the Tea Party is not something new, it is just the far right of the Republican Party. It’s an amalgam of all the fringes, from John Birchers, to neo-confederates to the Christian Theocrats, all coming together with the help of some very wealthy benefactors. After decades of moving the party ever rightward, they are now finally reaching the fringe.
One thing to remember, however — while these people have been around forever, this is the first time they have become a truly powerful institutional force in the Republican party. They have moved smartly into the vacuum left by the Cheney failure and they have done it in a time of crisis, which gives them opportunities they wouldn’t normally have. They are more dangerous today than usual and if they win these seats this fall they cause some very serious trouble.
While Digby recognizes the threat I’m not sure she sees the historical threat:
Inspired by the military prowess and black uniforms of the Arditi, Italy’s elite storm troops of World War I, the Fascist Blackshirts were organized by Benito Mussolini as the military tool of his political movement. The founders of the paramilitary groups were nationalist intellectuals, former army officers, young landowners opposing peasants’ and country labourers’ unions. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini’s power grew, and they used violence and intimidation against Mussolini’s opponents.
Although the tea party members haven’t taken up arms yet the majority of them are well armed and they have talked about it. The Republican elite created this monster and they are having regrets. While the elite are more than happy to use the peasant class they don’t appreciate sharing power with them. Glenn gets it right:
Much of the patronizing derision and scorn heaped on people like
Christine O’Donnell have very little to do with their substantive views —
since when did right-wing extremism place one beyond the pale? — and
much more to do with the fact they’re so . . . unruly and unwashed. To
members of the establishment and the ruling class (like Rove), these are
the kinds of people — who struggle with tuition bills and have their
homes foreclosed — who belong in Walmarts, community colleges,
low-paying jobs, and voting booths on command, not in the august United
I can’t help but think the elites of the Republican Party are hoping for tea party defeats in November so they can take their Republican party back from the “unwashed.” Ironically it may be those same elites who save us from the new blackshirts. It’s only fair since they created them in the first place.