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Bronner writes: "There is hardly a policy proposal forwarded by the GOP that does not disadvantage people of color, women, and working people - and, worse, there is hardly a single major Republican politician willing to publicly challenge the rhetoric or the proposals of the far right and the Tea Party. The mainstream has justified the extreme."

Mrs. Ohio poses with Tea Party devotees dressed as Ben Franklin and Uncle Sam, 09/03/2011. (photo Tom Mahl)
Mrs. Ohio poses with Tea Party devotees dressed as Ben Franklin and Uncle Sam, 09/03/2011. (photo Tom Mahl)

At Home With the Bigot

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

14 February 12

Reader Supported News | Perspective

epublicans and their conservative allies insist that racism is a thing of the past. But their party still serves as the bastion of anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-black, and anti-feminist activism. Not since the Great Depression has its lower-middle class base experienced such disorientation and disruption. President George W. Bush left them with two failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bursting of the sub-prime housing bubble and the crashing of the derivates market in 2007. And then, on top of it, came the electoral defeat in 2008 that produced the first black president of the United States. Military miscalculation abroad, economic collapse at home, and burning political humiliation fueled the stubborn radicalism and small-minded resentment of what would become the Tea Party. Coming from non-urban areas mostly in the South and the Mid-West, but also from white immigrant enclaves in some big cities, its members have their own forms of moral cognition. They have little use for globalization, the welfare state, new social movements or the "adversary culture" inherited from the 1960s. Wearing revolutionary garb and tricorn hats, disrupting town meetings devoted to healthcare and other social issues, bullying progressive congressional representatives and holding rallies of their own, they constitute a new generation of reactionary activists calling for "revolution" - though, naturally, only one that will protect their privileges and interests.

The Tea Party meshes libertarian capitalists preaching the gospel of the free market and reactionary populists intent upon rehabilitating "family values," rehabilitating religion, and a parochial vision of community. Over the last century, for the most part, these trends were diametrically at odds with one another: Libertarians had little use for rabble-rousing bigots, religious fanatics or the like, while populists hated big business, open markets, and the scientific culture of modernity. Ronald Reagan initially brought these contradictory trends together. He blended the anti-union and de-regulating interests of elites committed to the classical principles of the free market with the cultural conservatism and hyper-nationalism of the old "moral" majority and burgeoning religious movements. George W. Bush built on that coalition. But there was new urgency for an organizational alliance between liberations and populists following the economic collapse of 2008 and subsequent presidential victory of Barack Obama. Fears of dramatic state intervention into the economy blended with horror over the symbolic implications of having a black president for the image of community associated with old television shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and Happy Days. Out of this alliance and these anxieties, indeed, the Tea Party was born in 2009.

The GOP was quick to recognize its importance. Seasoned operatives of the Republican Party were soon offering their advice and leadership. They originally thought the Tea Party might be manipulated. But the opposite took place: the tail wound up wagging the dog. There is an old saying: styles make fights. The new rhetoric was supplied by Fox News and a score of feral media demagogues, among whom Glenn Beck and Michael Savage were merely the most venal. Evangelicals and far-right groups associated with them and others like them, and the Tea Party routinely began referring to President Obama as the Anti-Christ and as an Imam. The bigot applauded. Advertisements compared him and his family to chimpanzees, portrayed the White House with rows of watermelons on the lawn, and implied that the president is a crack addict. But the problem apparently was not the bigot's friends who supposedly hate blacks: it was rather Obama who clearly hates whites. The new president was seen as the advocate of the (black) welfare cheat, the (Latino) immigrant, the anti-Christian (Arab) terrorist, the supposedly overpaid (lazy and shiftless) union worker, and anti-family (feminist and gay) forces. The Tea Party channeled the bigot's prejudices. It would become easy for him to identify with the (white) business elite whose (seemingly color-blind) policies attacking the bureaucratic welfare state appeared intent upon recreating a patriarchal world of white privilege.

Lingering economic recession, fear of radical social and economic reform, and fanatical mobilization (coupled with disillusionment of those expecting yet more radical changes by the new regime) brought about the sweeping victory of the far right in the Congressional elections of 2010. Now it was the Republicans' turn to applaud. The Tea Party was not simply nuts. Challenging the seemingly sacrosanct image of FDR and the New Deal, whatever its racist and intolerant elements, the Tea Party had become the agent of what might be termed capitalist fundamentalism. This meant highlighting the "invisible hand" of the market and the individual (not the accumulation process and class) as the units of social analysis. The state budget could now be equated with a household budget and everyone would now echo the mantra of Margaret Thatcher: "There is no society, there are only individuals." The welfare state would now be condemned (once again) not merely as wasteful - but immoral. Hard work brings rewards. Individuals are responsible for themselves, not others. Lack of ambition and foresight by individuals are the causes of unemployment and poverty. No free rides! Evangelicals know the "truth": no abortions, no condoms, and no gay marriage - women back to the kitchen and gays to the closet.

With the increasing influence of the Tea Party upon the Republican Party, indeed, the once modest home afforded the bigot turned into a mansion. Rooms would prove available especially for someone who is neither white nor male and who seemingly represents the less privileged. Women like former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin or Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) reaffirm the house-wife or the "soccer mom" in the face of an economy in which the single breadwinner has become an anachronism. A gay couple (two male earners) is trotted out occasionally to congratulate the Tea Party for its libertarian values. There is the Latino Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla), who is apparently terrified by the immigrant mob threatening to invade from South of the border. The bigot has also made friends with an African-American or two. Hermann Cain received his applause for insisting that Blacks were "brain-washed" into supporting the Democratic Party, thereby confirming the bigot's old belief that they are too stupid to favor egalitarian and redistributive policies on their own. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas champions tough love while his (white) wife champions the Tea Party. Then there is Congressman Allen West (R-Fla), whose idea of tolerance is to tell liberals "to get the hell out of the United States" and then identify the Democratic Party with the Nazi propaganda machine. This cast of characters, it should be noted, is not simply useful for propagandizing the undecided: it also reinforces the bigot's idea of what makes a real person of color or a real woman. These political figures validate the benevolent image of a bygone America in which taxes were low, government was small, women were in the kitchen, and the only important color was white.

The clock has already been turned back. A study released on October 29, 2011, by the Bertelsmann Stiftung showed that the United States has plummeted into the bottom five among the thirty nations comprising the industrial world in "Overall Social Justice Rating," "Overall Poverty Prevention Rating," Overall Poverty Rate," "Child Poverty," and "Income Inequality." Libertarian economic policies championed by the Tea Party endanger democratic deliberation, diversity, and cosmopolitan ideals. New socio-economic burdens and constraints also threaten disadvantaged groups. People of color will disproportionately suffer from a flat tax as well as other regressive attempts to shrink the tax base and, subsequently, bankrupt the welfare state. African-Americans and Latinos will be disproportionately impacted by attempts to demand photo-ID, literacy tests, and the like in order to vote. Redistricting and racist zoning regulations are recreating segregation while the uncurbed use of private money in election campaigns is disenfranchising the working people and the poor. Privatizing the prison system has sharply increased incarceration, especially among minority groups: people of color constitute 70% of inmates, nationally, and one in three African-American males is currently either awaiting trial, in jail, or on parole. Since convicts cannot vote, hundred of thousands of primarily African-Americans and people of color are currently being disenfranchised by what has been called the "new Jim Crow."

There is hardly a policy proposal forwarded by the GOP that does not disadvantage people of color, women, and working people - and, worse, there is hardly a single major Republican politician willing to publicly challenge the rhetoric or the proposals of the far right and the Tea Party. The mainstream has justified the extreme. All candidates for the Republican presidential nomination of 2012 seem to worry about a "disappearing white majority" as they take turns in attacking the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "food stamp presidents," and critics of religious dogmatism (as well as the Crusades). White supremacists of varying shades try to recruit and mix with luminaries of the Republican Party at conferences like that hosted by the American Conservative Union. Fragments of half-baked conspiracy theories float around in the minds of many grassroots activists in the Tea Party. Obama may look like he is in charge but (especially since he is black) the more paranoid insist that he is being controlled by more powerful interests and organizations like the Bilderberg banking group, the Trilateral Commission, Freemasons, Islamic terrorists, or Jews - or all of them working in concert. Conspiracy theory is common currency in the Tea Party and, again, there is hardly a single Republican willing to condemn it. Such talk makes no sense and thus frustration grows, resentment increases, and rage intensifies. It is taken out not merely on African-Americans but on other outsiders as well: gays, immigrants, Arabs, and Jews. Bigotry has become a commonplace of political life in the United States. The jargon of prejudice, sometimes veiled and sometimes not, is now so prevalent that most people simply shrug their shoulders. And the Tea Party has been in the vanguard. The influence of their words on action may be indirect: but it is, nonetheless, palpable.

Everyday violence (that mostly goes unreported) against homosexuals, immigrants, and minorities is simply a routine fact of American life. Doctors performing abortions outside the larger cities do so at their own risk. The virtual obsession of the Tea Party with the right to own firearms (including AK-47s) does not merely express a desire to hunt ducks. Mainstream politicians of the Republican Party again fall into line. Sure: explicit calls for the use of violence come only from the margins. Just as the conservative mainstream has helped legitimate the Tea Party, however, the Tea Party is giving new hope to fanatics who stand even further on the right. The Republican Party has lacked the courage to take on the bigots in its own ranks - and its toleration of the Tea Party validates precisely what its ideologues wish to deny: racism is alive and well in the United States. And, all the while, the bigot is smiling. The approving winks that he gets are evident everywhere. What one reaps is what one sows. The prejudices of times past have not disappeared. One just needs to know where to look. Talk about the "end of racism" has become a bad joke. Conservative politics attests to its continuation. The Tea Party will probably find itself in the trashcan of history once Republicans suffer some serious electoral defeats. But its mass base will undoubtedly survive and take new organizational forms as it always has in the past - from the "Know-Nothings" to the KKK to McCarthy to the "Silent Majority" and the "Moral Majority" and God knows what other fringe groups. For the foreseeable future, however, the bigot has no need to worry. With the Republican Party, indeed, he has once again found himself a happy home.

Stephen Eric Bronner is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Relations at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights: Rutgers University. The Senior Editor of Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, he is currently working on a manuscript entitled The Bigot for Yale University Press.

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