“The ‘I’ is disappearing. Individuals count only as part of the whole.”
- -Ludwig Bauer, 1932
In more rational times, America’s ultra-right, proto-fascist Tea Party might be deemed too miserable a target for sober critique. The speech and actions juxtapose too neatly, the arrogance registers too palpably, the ignorance waltzes confidently in double-time. In more rational times, we might shake our heads and laugh at the insanity of it all – the jingoistic name-calling, the vitriolic protests aimed at nonviolent Muslim-Americans, the racist hypocrisy.
If you count yourself among my feeble readership, you will suspect that we do not live in rational times. Stupidity abounds. But it’s not the kind that easily lends itself to jest, or even to passive observation. Take away the spittle-laden podium desks, the spunky housewives, and the nauseatingly legitimizing 24-hour Fox News coverage, and you are left with a fairly barefaced platform of xenophobic syncretism. The Tea Party philosophy is a perverted cocktail of classically liberal populism blended with a pan-continental anti-socialist mobilization. The movement’s appeal to the working class is entirely undermined by its flat-out rejection of socialist considerations, by the reality of its financial support, and by its implicit racial exceptionalism.
This strain of racism manifests itself in various ways, and in reaction to ostensibly unrelated non-white communities. Tied into the movement’s message of economic self-sufficiency and self-governments is the militantly uninformed notion that whites have historically proven to be the most capably independent of American races. Though sheer numbers indicate that more whites than blacks receive Welfare checks in the mail, a popular myth among Tea Party groups tells a different story. Professor Dorothy E. Roberts notes that, though “much of the American public now views welfare dependency as a Black cultural trait, the welfare system systematically excluded Black people for most of its history.” Indeed, the Progressive welfare movement serves in some ways as an illuminating historical counterpart to the current Tea Party: a movement purportedly orchestrated by the lower-middle-classes, it was fundamentally “flawed by the elitism of the privileged, white activists that led it.”
Much has already been made of the Tea Party’s strained relationship with African-Americans. Given the chance to defend themselves on national news outlets, the movement’s leaders have consistently asserted that there is no racially dubious element to their anti-tax, anti-government platform. Actions, as ever, speak louder than pundits and figureheads. The Tea Party’s aggravation with the black community mostly boils down to a fundamental assumption that blacks are simply lazy, or that they lack the intelligence or self-discipline to achieve sufficient levels of economic independence. Take this leaked e-mail, in which Tea Party Express leader Roland Martin pretends to speak for African-Americans in a post-Civil-War-era letter to Abraham Lincoln: “We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards.”
Countless other examples, voiced during political rallies or in ass-headed youtube videos, prove that this is not an isolated grievance. There is, in fact, a pervasive belief among economically-conservative groups that America suffers at the hands of its black population. As America’s first black president who happens to preside over a budget crisis of historic proportions, Barack Obama plays an important role in the advancement of the Tea Party’s racist agenda. Though he is a right-centrist politician at best, his economic policies provide a ready-made sieve through which much of the Tea Party’s racist vitriol can be filtered. Would a white president have received the same reaction to the passing of a moderate health care bill? Would his face have been painted with crude makeup reminiscent of 1920s minstrel shows in posters that bear the word “Socalism” yet manage (rather impressively, I’d say) to make no political statement whatsoever?
For all the obvious reasons, I am wary of unfounded comparisons to National Socialism – especially those made in earnest when assessing one’s rival political factions. Such comparisons are nearly always in bad taste and show fantastic disregard for the world-historical singularity of the Nazi program. That being said, I think the Tea Party’s meteoric growth bears comparisons to the successes of other wide-scale nationalist movements, early Nazism (and importantly German Communism, for that matter) among them.
Despite its lukewarm early attempts to enlist the sympathies of working-class supporters, the party of Hitler was fundamentally positioned to appeal to Germany’s upper-middle, pro-business classes who would benefit from governmental and currency stabilization after the hyperinflation of 1923. Those lower-class members that the Nazis won over benefited from some of the socialist policies of the early regime (homeless shelters and food handouts chief among them), which quickly disappeared after Nazi control had been consolidated and the Weimar Republic effectively eliminated. In the destabilized, unpredictable climate of Weimar Germany, it paid to be an extremist. With no strong centrist voice to draw the warring factions together or present a viable alternative for the populace, the political spectrum widened and its human middle hollowed out.
I do not make this comparison to say that the Tea Party’s treatment of black Americans is in any way akin to the Nazi doctrine of anti-Semitism. That is, of course, an absurd claim. I would instead like to focus on a more universal element of the equation – one too often ignored in contemporary analogues of political fanaticism. Above all, I think, what the American Tea Party shares with Nazism, German and Stalinist Communism, and other prominent examples of 20th century political fanaticism is a total lack of empathy.
When sensationalist, apocalyptic proclamations invade national discourses – as they certainly are now in relation to our debt crisis – there is the tendency to forfeit a basically human compassion for one’s fellow individuals in favor of a single-minded, pitiless focus on the goals of the collective. The “I” is effectively erased, the individual devalued to the point of obsolescence.
It is my opinion that this kind of transformation is currently unfolding within the bitter ranks of the Tea Party. It is apparent when protesters should “Go Home!” to peace-minded Muslims attending a charity fundraiser in their home town. It is apparent in the cruel confidence of crowds, growing larger each day, demanding that Muslims be deported or Blacks be stripped of their right to vote. I doubt that any single one of these people would have the audacity to shout “Muhammad is a pedophile” to a group of Muslim children were it not for the sneering cheers from their companions surely waiting to greet them.
If I recall correctly, it was Hegel who said that “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” Perhaps this is so in a grand sense, but as individuals we cannot let it be. We must respond to the Tea Party’s xenophobic structures of belief, but we must avoid the temptation of reactionary diatribes in doing so. They, after all, are the reactionaries. History will surely close the books on these asshats, but we must lend it a hand regardless.
I'll leave you with this: Do not sacrifice what makes you human, reader, whatever the cause or complaint.