In the minds of many Americans who live in the so-called Red States, their values are under siege. They believe that what made this country great was heterosexuality, Evangelical Christianity, racial and ethnic homogeneity, unregulated gun ownership, and overall lack of government interference in their lives. Back in some Golden Age, people did not need a handout to survive. Of course, many did not survive because life was hard and old Doc Peabody just didn’t know how to do anything but dispense aspirin.
Then, over time, corporations took over the farms; and the more promising youth left for the coastal states. Those who were left behind continued to espouse the same values as their fathers. Suddenly, however, it seems that most Americans were no longer in the Grant Wood American Gothic mold. They were Black, Asian, Mexican, Muslim, Liberal, Queer, Educated, Feminists—in short “Not Our Kind of People.”
One result is the growth of a political movement to turn back the tide of history. So we have people whose main strategy is denial. Denial of science, of demographic change, of agnosticism, of the urban poor. Life for the Tea Party and their camp followers is one of nullification of what they do not understand. And since they do not try to understand anything outside their narrow orbit, it is an ultimately defeatist stance of a party in retreat.
Yesterday, I read an interesting article by Christopher S. Parker called “Whither the Tea Party? The Future of a Political Movement,” published by the Brookings Institution. Click the link labelled “Download the paper” for the complete text.
Parker does not think the Tea Party is going away soon, irrespective how many times it is bloodied at the polls:
Some may question whether or not this is really an “astroturf” [as opposed to grassroots] movement, one that wouldn’t survive in the absence of support from the Koch Brothers, or other big-money funding sources. But Tea Party membership has continued to grow over the last year. As IREHR [Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights] indicates, this was during a time when big-money donors were all but absent: 82 percent of the donations to five Tea Party affiliated organizations were un-itemized individual donations, which are capped at $200, and 97 percent of the itemized contributions to three national Tea Party affiliated Super PACs—Freedom Works for America, Patriot Super PAC, and Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund—failed to exceed $1,000. This suggests that the Tea Party movement isn’t “astroturf.” It’s a real grassroots movement, one that will likely be around a while.
As long as there are white Americans in the former Confederate States of America and Great Plains who feel disenfranchised, there will either be a Tea Party to minister to their needs. Or else, more likely over time, their needs will act as yeast in a Republican Party that has been largely taken over by their political and social agenda.
Change will not stop because it is in the interests of a large bloc of the U.S. population to halt it in its tracks. Over the long haul, there will be a continuing battle that will resemble some of the political battles of the Nineteenth Century over Free Silver and the Nativists. I expect it will be ugly, even if it is a losing battle: There will still be casualties on both sides.