Even if they don’t win this time around, the Tea Party’s defining influence in the 2012 election should concern everyone who does not want the U.S. decline to give rise to a new breed of 21st century, American-style fascism. I cam to this conclusion while watching Democracy Now!’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. Admittedly, Democracy Now! is very little pre-occupied with American journalism’s fetish for “objectivism”. From time to time their coverage comes across as paranoid and strident. In this case, I believe that they are right to be paranoid. Growing up here in the Bay Area, I have been witness to all manner of hand-wringing and chicken littling about the unchecked powers of the presidency, destruction of the environment, the rise of the military state, etc. etc., particularly during the Bush years. But George W. Bush, for all his destructiveness and extra-constitutional over-reaches, did not scare me the way that the Tea Party scares me. He infuriated and frustrated, and he forced me to marvel at the gullibility of those who supported him, who, as I believed, failed to see through his flimsy smokescreens. The worse alternative, of course, being that there were people out there who actually believed GW was right to reach for American global hegemony. Call this my political naivety. It is always better to assume the other side is ill informed, rather than malicious. It is less terrifying that way.
To my eyes, George W. always seemed something of an outlier, someone that we could probably handle when it came down to it. Even with his formidable machine of right wing political gamers, media cheerleaders and Christian zealots, he always seemed so alone up there, so paltry. His posturing, his transparently Freudian hang-ups, his almost comically sinister vice president. After his re-election in 2004, by my reading, it didn’t take long for the nation to experience something of a collective buyers’ remorse. Not that we regretted turning down the tepid John Kerry. More like we were embarrassed to have been taken by so obvious a straw man, wannabe strongman, duped by his manufactured threats, his in-retrospect almost childish war game rhetoric.
September 11th traumatized us, and the politicians in power took advantage. But even at our worst, I think we all knew that 9/11 was exceptional. Chances were, it wouldn’t happen again. There would be no war on American soil. The mere passage of days, suspiciously free of Muslim terrorism, proceeded to prove as much. The Bushites had gone out on a limb, and sure enough, with the Democrats’ 2006 and 2008 triumphs, the limb broke. As it turned out, we Americans weren’t so easily fooled. Our political system still had some life left in it, and we could elect, and at first overwhelmingly support, a man who seemed to represent everything that his predecessors weren’t. As if to show the world we had so blatantly disrespected that we weren’t all bad, after all.
Little did we know that the 21st Century was only just getting started. Indeed, seven years after 9/11 a trauma far more significant, and far more impactful fell swift and hard upon us. Upon all of us. And this time assigning blame wasn’t so easy. No WMDs, no terrorist training camps, no Axis of Evil. Rather, our entire way of life was put to trial. Something had gone wrong, or maybe it had been wrong all along. Maybe it had always been, and always would be a house of cards. The economy in free fall, basic comforts and assumptions once taken for granted now called into question, along with our very collective future. Our debt. Our children. Our homes. It was all going to be different now. Recession. Depression. The Great American Decline.
At first, we liberals liked to believe that the election of Obama had been our country’s answer to these new challenges. But this over-optimistic assumption was quick put to the lie. No, that had been too soon. Obama came about because of George W. Bush, not the economic collapse. But almost as soon as he stepped foot in office, a buyers’ remorse of a wholly different nature swept the country. Those who had once supported George Bush, and now felt over-chastened, felt it all slipping away. Our economy brought to its knees, our military chastened, And a fucking black man in the Oval Office? A black man with a middle name of Hussein? This while immigration continued unabated, and we whites’ majority status now on numbered days?
Well, not if we had anything to say about it.
And thus, the Tea Party was born. The fruits of the Great American Decline. Comparable in genesis, if not yet ferocity, to Weimar Germany’s National Socialists — the once Great Power Germans grappling with sudden collapse, vs. the still Great Power Americans faced with gradual decline. George W. was the political machine’s power grab. Now it was the “grassroots’” turn. White men, Christians, the “real” Americans as Sarah Palin so memorably put it. A nostalgic, virulently nativist, often expressly xenophobic, soon sponsored by bottomless pools of cash and corporate, political and private donor/allies. Encouraged and enabled by the same well-oiled machine that had directed George W. Bush, their intension from the very beginning was to seize control of the political system, and enact radical change in response to the sudden fears and altered realities of 21st Century America. It has been a little over two years since they first came onto the scene. Already they have ensconced themselves within a political system that had never intended to defend against such a movement in the first place. Now, with their first national convention, their mission has been codified and advertised for the nation and incorporated whole-heartedly into the political mainstream. Neither the old style “country club” Republicans like John Boehner, nor the neo-conservative Karl Rovians Republicans knew how to deal with them at first. Now, it seems that the Tea Party has been accepted. Jim Crow-reminiscent anti-immigration and voter suppression laws are passing everywhere, and the Citizens United decision has facilitated the total corruption, and near-absolute oligarchy of a system already groaning with such pressures. Ron Paul, whose delegates could have functioned as dissenting voices, were decisively excluded from the Convention. John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 are small fries compared to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. Even if Mitt Romney proves too weak a candidate to best Obama this time around, in the long run, I fear that the piddling Democrats do not stand a chance.