Seneca: The Tea Party Phenomenon

April 12th, 2011 · 7 Comments

And unfortunately, crumpets and finger sandwiches are not served.

The Tea Party stems from the following : this so-called conservative resistance is plainly white Americans who borrow from several historical trends like the Boston Tea Party of the 1770s, but perhaps more importantly from the Know-Nothing Movement of the 19th century. But today add to the equation the reality that traditional White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) along with their close cousins the Scots-Irish feel under siege. In the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII, they began to feel their position erode: ethnic minorities like the Irish Catholics, Italians and the Jewish community secured a firm and effective socio-economic and political status equal to the WASPs. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon narrative began to crumble: the America of Currier and Ives and Saturday Evening Post was increasingly a nostalgia trip.

When JFK won in 1960, the rise of white ethnic Catholics increased. Moreover, the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s unleashed a ‘people of color’ activism: Blacks primarily as well as Latinos, Native Americans and Asians, who sought to gain more recognition and fair treatment. Subsequently, the murders of JFK, RFK and MLK along with the Watergate Scandal and the military fiasco (retreat) in Vietnam profoundly questioned American ‘exceptionalism’. The American traditional power elite was shell shocked. This so-called exceptionalism had been a White Anglo-Saxon rich and a poor Scot-Irish narrative, which depicted these so-called original Americans as stewards of the American experience. For over 175 years, these inheritors of this narrative have extolled the American way of life and suddenly in the late 1950s and through the 60s, they began to grow wary of a central federal government that promoted or protected this perceived erosion of exceptionalism. This included: urban riots, busing, affirmative action, integration, civil rights, feminism, pro-choice, gay rights, environmentalism, rise in crime, anti-war protests, anti-poverty programs, welfare, gun control, immigration and growing narcotics use. These were all demonized and perceived as threats to the American narrative.

One result was the increasing awareness of the diluting of the traditional core WASP position in American society. The feeling among this dominant group was of being challenged by non-American cultural threats like the increased use of the Spanish language and the increasing migration of ‘non-whites’ (Latinos, Asians and Muslims) into the US. The most defining event was the passage of the Public Accommodations portion of the Civil Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson which was even more disturbing to this first among equals group. President Johnson presciently noted at the time that this legislation created a White stampede out of the Democratic party. The South, the Mid-west and the Mountain states as many of the suburbs of the Northeast and the West Coast became solidly Republican. The GOP was no longer the Episcopalian Church at prayer. Its mild-mannered conservative demeanor was pushed aside by the arrival of poor and middle class southern whites and white ethnics (Reagan Democrats) along with other beleaguered whites. These included the affluent or middle class and poor religious, rural and laboring whites and non-WASPs. Politically they referred to themselves as “Middle America.”

This embattled group of mostly European-Americans are not unlike formerly powerful minorities around the world who have found themselves undone by unsettling demographic realignment and a radicalized, shrinking political base. True, in the short term everything is in their favor. However, in the mid to long term, the numbers and resulting politics spell their decline. See the Africkaners. They fell prey initially to political isolation, followed by marginalization and even repudiation on the world stage.

Additionally, the abortion debate mobilized the Catholic Church as well as the more fundamental religious sects and many of their faithful (mostly former Democrats) now found solace in the GOP. Hence, Civil Rights and abortion were the two defining ‘wedge’ issues that attracted the vast majority of whites into the GOP fold.This new ‘emerging majority’ as the Nixonites labeled them began to promote the GOP as the God-fearing party of traditional ‘winners’ and not the Democratic party of ‘losers': non-whites, the underdogs, the poor, the gays, the minority poor, the egg-head intellectuals and artists, and unions. Hence, this spawned culture wars which increased class distrust. Moreover, patriotic friction ensued with the GOP hiding behind American soldiers, defending the second amendment and attacking the ‘un-American’ position of these ‘new threats’ to traditional America. And the Democrats almost disoriented rallied around (or hid behind) the poor, feminists, victimized groups, unions, gays, environmentalists, entertainment industry, anti-war protesters, and other aggrieved minorities.

Eventually, political reality caught up with both parties. The GOP’s automatic support of virtually any military expenditure or war created enormous cost. This cost has been mostly ignored by the cowed Democrats. At the same time, the GOP clamored continuously for reducing the tax burden and deregulating the economy while the Democrats readily supported a vast array of costly social programs and set asides. Additionally, the response to the 9/11 terrorist act increased massive federal spending as did the grotesquely expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a deregulated (predatory) financial sector came the economic bust in 2008 on top of an already ailing economy. This became the Great Recession of 2008 with increasingly widespread unemployment. The balanced budget of the Clinton years was no longer an economic virtue. The US economy no longer ‘unfolded’. It unraveled. The spending spree continues by both political parties, but it seems to have slowed down. The challenge is that discretionary spending is virtually non-existent in the budget. Everything seems to be recurring or fixed entitlement programs. Hence, the Tea Party phenomenon appeared within the GOP in 2010.

At first glance, the Tea Party is a relatively disorganized movement, but it is plainly spurred on by the horrific deficit spending, the debt growth, and the direction of the GOP: fiscally in disarray. It also seeks to neutralize the Democrats. Upon closer examination, it consists mostly of the white traditional nostalgic inheritors of the American narrative who seek to thwart the central (federal) government from empowering those ‘unnecessary’ recipients and threats. Thus, their grand design or scheme is to eliminate the funding for this ‘monstrous’ government apparatus. Hence, in short, one can readily detect the panic among the deteriorating traditional class of ‘first real’ Americans and their determination to make suspects of all perceived threatening groups (ie. non-whites) and defend the local government structure which preserves the American narrative. Borrowing its name from an American revolutionary event protesting Britain’s unfair taxation, the Tea Partiers’ tactics often resemble the ‘Know-nothings‘ from yester-year. They now appear to be creating serious dissension within the traditional GOP coalition. Security Republicans fear cuts in the defense establishment. Social conservatives want more religious values reflected in government and legislation. The Tea Party members at first glance may come across as fiscal Republicans, but there lurks a threatening anarchic element among the activists. ‘Shut the government down if necessary: who needs it?’ seems to be their motto. They do not seem to be concerned with the Latino or the poor people’s plight in economic terms nor do they seek a solution or comprehensive reform of immigration. In fact, if a serious consideration of immigration reform does emerge, the enormous cost involved in processing 12 million undocumented will certainly antagonize and re-energize the Tea Party. As the 2012 Presidential elections draw closer, these social, fiscal and security conservatives will coalesce but be pulled and tugged in different directions. Not any current GOP hopeful is able to bring them together cohesively. But then again, as always, the whole national economic, security and social discussion in general US elections revolve around capturing or winning this white nostalgic Middle America vote. Many observers might be tempted to say that this formerly governing class of whites find itself in a political death throe. Close examination of this group’s electoral behavior and the political appeals to them reveal that these so-called Tea Partiers together with the regular white coalition are the real swing vote in the US…..not African-Americans and certainly not Latinos…for now!

Tags: Democratic Party · Economics · GOP · Immigration · Republican Party · Seneca

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tejano // Apr 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    You can look at facts & rationalize history any way you want. This is a hateful, spiteful piece that I think interprets some things fairly and others not fairly. For example, I think the points about Anglos being worried about their future does play into some parts of the Tea Party. But on the flip-side, did you know in Mississippi (historically one of the most racially divided places in the US), that Tea Party membership among blacks is 1% higher than the population of the state as a whole? Sure, there are some people motivated by race, but it’s an economic movement by & large.

    The idea of reducing government is not an assault on Hispanics or the poor. It’s a matter of economic survival. It is not a white thing or a high earner thing. People from all backgrounds are concerned about the country spending money that it doesn’t have. Many *disagree* with the policies that have put us in this position — most notably wars we can’t afford (Iraq, Afghanistan), military bases around the world, entitlements, etc.

    I don’t know if any of you have seen the recent numbers put out by Bill Gross, but he said recently that current debt levels simply couldn’t be sustained beyond 2037: i.e. the financial models break, and a majority of the reason why is that future commitments on entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid, social security, & other entitlement programs). We’ve over-promised and cannot hope to deliver.

    The problem is so serious; one of six things (or a combination) is going to have to happen:

    1) The US economy grows at 6-7%/year – very unlikely

    2) Inflation will have to double or more – that’s monetary policy & every indication currently is that the government will do this to devalue people holding US debt

    3) We’re going to war to consume someone else’s resources – although we haven’t won a war as a country since WW2 so this is probably a bad idea

    4) Government entitlement spending will be cut – very likely

    5) Immigration policy will be *relaxed* to let more people into the country to expand the tax base – again very likely although my guess is that priority will be given to skilled worker immigrants as they have higher earning (and tax revenue) potential.

    6) Terrible as this sounds, but “senicide” – killing of old people either directly or by neglect because it is too expensive for government to keep them alive.

    Overall, we’re in for some soul searching as a country – times are going to get tough. This happens with an aging population, low birth rates, a stable population, and a confused immigration policy.

    But what gets me about this is that the author spews hate about the Tea Party without understanding what it is. This article is a knee jerk reaction to headlines and sound-bytes. I actually think if you were to ask a Tea Party person if they favored immigration as a way to expand the tax base, they’d probably think it was a good idea. That would be a compelling article — something like — “Are there ways the Tea Party and Latinos can work together?” But this is a pretty irresponsible assassination piece.

    This is the kind of thing that IMO panders to the Left and makes it impossible for the Right to engage with Latinos. It is arguably more divisive than any Republican Party or Tea Party policy that I’ve ever seen.

  • 2 Sam Harms // Apr 13, 2011 at 6:16 am

    “to a thief, everyone is a thief”, “to a liar, everyone is lying”…and… “to a racist, everyone is racist”.

    Has she ever even talked to a tea party member? The article was just her “opinion” about what other people think and feel. Perhaps she should ask them instead of attributing to them whatever thoughts she wants to.

    If you would like a more educated opinion of the tea party…Here was a study done by a professor at the University of Virginia. I think it more accurately describes the tea party.

    As someone who identifies very closely with the tea party, I can honestly tell you that I don’t care about anyones race or religion when identifying with their politics. Perhaps she should interview me, so that she can actually understand what a tea partier thinks instead of sitting in her room thinking deep thoughts.

  • 3 Anna // Apr 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Rde: “The idea of reducing government is not an assault on Hispanics or the poor. It’s a matter of economic survival.”

    That’s nonsense. They’re cutting everything that doesn’t make a profit for corporations. They think your taxes should be used to subsidize Wall St, and military contractors, not for healthcare, public schools, infrastructure, etc.

    The Tea party is the GOPs way of rebranding its base. The base used to be called the Christian Coalition when wedge issues like abortion, prayer in school were useful to the GOP. But those issues don’t win elections for them anymore, so they came up with something new. Now they need “middle America” to give cover to corporate looters, so they came up with the Tea Party. They’re using the image and language of revolt, but they’re supporting everything our Founding Fathers fought against.

    As soon as the Tea Party is no longer effective, the elites will create some other gimmick to manipulate middle class and poor people into digging their own graves.

  • 4 Speaking of Tea Party, Congresswoman Sanchez Describes Interacting with the New Members of Congress // Apr 13, 2011 at 11:14 am

    […] Archives Select Month April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 July 2007 ← Seneca: The Tea Party Phenomenon […]

  • 5 Chicano future tense // Apr 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Kudos to Seneca..the noble “Roman” does a good job of presenting us with a concise rundown of the Tea Party phenomena.I found his article to be a fairly accurate representation of the Tea Party’s history,origins,as well as it’s current political-social dynamic in american society.

    As far as the commentaries following Seneca’s article,it appears to me to be somewhat of a mixed bag of plausible,valid points,accurate information mixed in with confusion,vitriol,possible intentional misrepresentation of the article under discussion.

    Tejano’s “rage”-his accusation that Seneca’s article is a hate filled hit piece on the Tea Party full of “venomous” unjust racism directed against white folks is highly amusing.I could just imagine Tejano out there in Austin at a Tea Party rally waving a little Lone Star flag,yelling at the top of his lungs turning red with emotion “Remember the Alamo!”…”Viva Sam Houston!” ..”Abajo con Mexico!”.
    Honestly-I think Tejano is exagerating just a little bit here on these particular aspects..
    But,as far as his stats and general informational data in respect to the economy and the financial crisis which the USA finds itself in is accurate.It would be hard to disagree with his numbers and stats about the economy.I am in agreement with him on his general description of the mess the USA is in at present.

    I would give “Sam” the benefit of the doubt,accept his representation of himself as being non-racist and friendly towards Mexican people.Mexican people should always be willing to talk to sincere honest Gringos even those with different,in many cases,opposing ideas and opinions about policy.Why not?
    Honest debate is good for Democracy.

    As to Anna,she makes some valid points and I am in agreement with her as far as to the general direction of her observations.However,I think it is asinine of her to refer to the leaders of the early colonial,revolutionary periods in this countries history as “Our founding fathers”.
    Our founding fathers? …Hell no,they’re your founding fathers.

    Founding fathers?..You mean the white plantation elite who had hundreds of thousands of slaves who had no more rights than beasts of burden?The Founding fathers who slaughtered,raped and pillaged Native Americans ,robbing them of their lands?You mean those founding fathers?

    Chances are Anna,if you would have lived on one of your “Founding fathers” plantation he would have had your brown butt out in the fields alongside the black African slaves working like an animal toiling from dawn to dusk.
    And in another interpretation of Anna’s term “founding Fathers” chances are she would have been raped by her master making him the “Father” of her child.

    So let’s stop this silliness about “Our founding fathers”..

  • 6 Anna // Apr 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I mean “our” in that as American citizens we are the beneficiaries of their legacy, which is the US constitution.

  • 7 india blanca // Apr 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    As always Seneca illuminate us with his insightful wisdom by putting things into context. This piece should be published in the mainstream media, it would help many understand the origins of the right wing reactionary whiplash we are experiencing…as for Tejano, it is known to all that the Tea Party movement aggressively stalks all venues to go after any piece or any voice that x-rays their conscience. Tejano’s glandular attack is no different, sprinkled with some econ facts he pretends to lend his comment the credibility it lacks…Seneca is not questioning the tragic economic situation we are experiencing, he is simply pointing out the destructiveness of a movement that simply tears down our federal government in the hopes of giving their narrative a chance to overtake our state governments in detriment of anyone who does not fit their mold….I have to admit the Tea Party’s PR campaign is avid yet egregious for their rhetoric purposely confuses and simply ends up being a tool to incite divisiveness, flame fears and keep the moderate voices from effectively finding a common ground….this group of bigots is not only anti government but shamelessly anti immigrant (that is against our brothers and sisters of color) …these Americans who believe we are Taxed Enough Already don’t see to demand fair distribution when it comes to paying taxes…instead they endorse the huge tax cuts enjoyed by the very rich and the squeeze the present tax structure puts on the middle class, the very one they are suppose to represent. Where was the Tea Party when GE got away without paying a cent in taxes in 2010 after a $14.2 billion in worldwide operating profits while our middle class is bleeding… from shoring up most of the tax load?
    Tejano, we all know we are in trouble when it comes to our economy’s future…I would advise you to watch INSIDE JOB…it will become very clear how it is we got here…and it was not through what is refer to as “big government”…we got here through the shameless corruption that has taken over our economic power elite….where were you and your Tea Party “Patriots” when Wall Street and its global partners under the tutelage of Pres Reagan, Bush Sr and Jr, as well as Pres Clinton turned our country over to these corporate thugs so they could rape and pillage???
    It is not our federal government structure that is to blame for our tragic situation…don’t attempt to confuse and distort the truth of our reality…the Tea Party has a right to exist just like any other group simply because everyone in this great nation have the right of free expression …I would suggest, however, that when one is proud of who one is, one should be willing to stand up and be counted for who one really is….Hence, as Seneca brilliantly states:
    Upon closer examination, it (THE TEA PARTY) consists mostly of the white traditional nostalgic inheritors of the American narrative who seek to thwart the central (federal) government from empowering those ‘unnecessary’ recipients and threats. Thus, their grand design or scheme is to eliminate the funding for this ‘monstrous’ government apparatus. Hence, in short, one can readily detect the panic among the deteriorating traditional class of ‘first real’ Americans and their determination to make suspects of all perceived threatening groups (i.e. non-whites) and defend the local government structure which preserves the American narrative. Borrowing its name from an American revolutionary event protesting Britain’s unfair taxation, the Tea Partiers’ tactics often resemble the ‘Know-nothings‘from yester-year. They now appear to be creating serious dissension within the traditional GOP coalition”…
    …since I am an optimist who thinks even the greatest evil has a positive angle that can be used to improve any conundrum I will point out how thankful I am that the shrill venomous nonsense spewed by the Tea Party, and its followers, like Tejano,in my opinion, will only help to ensure the re-election of the Democratic Party.

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