Tea Partiers are driven by a Norman Rockwell-like ideal of the U.S., which is white and middle-class and where “real Americans can do what they want” with no need to worry about consequences. This philosophy assumes stability and a comfortable if not continually rising standard of living, and is indifferent to the fact that it was only ever achieved at the expense of the lives of people in other nations in the era of globalization. “Morning in America” meant sweated labor in most of the rest of the world. Now that the depredations of neoliberalism are striking home, this insular outlook has morphed into the Tea Party’s illogical attitude to government.
Their ideological confusion leads Tea Partiers open to demagogues who “scream at people that their government is illegitimate, that their country has been ‘taken away,’ that their elected officials are ‘traitors’ and that their freedom is at risk.” (Eugene Robinson 3/30/10 in WAPO).
The militias on the right have an extreme form of this mindset. Their ideas read like a kind of militant isolationism, driven by fears of loss of personal independence, which they amalgamate with national independence. Talking Points Memo cites an explanation by Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who follows these groups’ activities closely. “The more secular militia groups foresee an impending catastrophe in the form of the federal government confiscating weapons, imposing martial law, and herding those who resist into concentration camps. Ultimately they fear that the U.S. will be subsumed into a socialistic ‘One World Order,’ under supra-national bodies like the U.N. or the EU. ‘The only difference with the Hutarees is that they put this millenial spin on it,’ Potok said.”
Juan Cole has a very interesting comment in his post of 3/29/10: “I am struck that Hutaree has a great deal in common with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. The Hutaree militia seems to recruit from the poor or lower middle class. Michigan’s real unemployment rate is said to be 17%, and for many Michigan workers there have been years of hopelessness and joblessness, inducing despair and anger. The Mahdi Army likewise drew on Iraqi unemployed and angry youth. …
“Both groups are victims of a neoliberal world order that uses and discards working people, while protecting and cushioning the super-wealthy. Instead of a rational analysis of exploitation, however, they are responding with emotion and symbol, projecting their economic and political alienation on other religious or ethnic groups.”
To counter this rightwing trend, we need a movement that proudly asserts that, documented or not, we all become American in the end. The United States means more than stupid racists in the midWest or South. It also means Civil Rights, empowerment of women, the Constitution, the liberation of slaves through Civil War, the principles of democracy. The U.S. is the world’s crucible for many social ideals. But now it is falling further behind in social practice: in education, healthcare, childcare, care for older people. The experiment of the republic is threatened by oligarchy and needs to be restored in a struggle against the corporate corruption of the two-party political system. Intellectuals need to engage with the problems of the poor and not allow themselves to be marginalized by the twisted rabble-rousers of Fox News.