I cannot offer anything but resistance to so reactionary and ridiculous a movement. I know that there are some people in a thrall to its libertarian elements, and if that was all that was going on with the Tea Party people I’d think it a healthy social phenomenon. But it’s not. The professed libertarianism makes for a respectable media front for otherwise authoritarian and reactionary political and cultural elements to gather: anti-gay theocrats, torture advocates, racists, conspiracy fanatics, Obama haters, science denialists, Birchites, and general isolationists. It is a movement in a thrall to its own simplicity, juvenalia, and aggression. And it’s a form of stupidity fueled by Far Right Big Media. In a complex, diverse, fast evolving, and interconnected global civilization facing enormous environmental and collective threats, the movement is little more than an indulgence in unicultural 1950s (white) nostalgia.
What the world needs is not more Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins whining over the loss of big car culture and hot running energy inefficient lightbulbs, but more young people studying climate science and biology in college. The future is not going to be shaped by Tea Party people reading Ayn Rand novels and proclaiming their intentions to separate themselves from civilization and “go Galt.” Nor does the future belong to anti-science young Earth creationists or anthropocentric climate change denialists. These are all forms of social alienation and withdrawal from seriousness. Rather, the future will be formed by elite, university trained, young intellectuals figuring out such things as how to feasibly shift from an oil economy to a green economy.
The Tea Party movement imagines its very existence as a sign of the far right’s growing strength in the Obama era, but it’s the exact opposite. It is, in fact, the sign of a broken wheel squeaking ever louder before rolling off its axel into the grassy ditch of historical irrelevancy.
This is not to say that a catastrophe (like a nuclear bomb in the harbor of Long Beach) might not bring an authoritarian right-wing movement to power in America. I think it very well could. Bourgeois democratic and liberal institutions are fragile. But whatever temporary victories such a reactionary movement might achieve near-term, I still think that its broad historical curve is in precipitous decline. 40 years from now, I think it’s pretty safe to predict that the ugly way that the Tea Party people generally act toward our first African American president, and talk about science, evolution, gays, and the environment, will be seen as totally shameful and pathetic—even nearly incomprehensible. It will be as difficult for most people 40 years from now to understand the Tea Party people as we have difficulty understanding the mentality of the white South in the 1940s.
Because the movement is a form of reaction to large historical, economic, and demographic forces running away from it. If you are going to throw-in with such a movement, at least know what you’re joining, and keep your eyes open to the fact that these types of movements have demonstrated a long historical predisposition, especially in times of high global stress, of turning spectacularly malignant.
Here’s what the woman who ironically shouted in the above video—“Burn the books!”—said about her Tea Party experience this past summer:
When I lived in Fairlawn, Ohio, I attended a “Tea Party” inspired by Glenn Beck. A conservative friend I had once worked with suggested I witness the event. I went for shits and giggles and was deeply amused by the right-wing zaniness. After a man rants with a fiery passion about marxist conspiracies, education brainwashing our youth, and so on, I sarcastically chimed in with a loud, “BURN THE BOOKS!” The leader came over and asked if I was serious. With a shit-eating grin, I said something along the lines of “Of course! You know, those evolution books,” knowing full-well I was surrounded by right-wing religious zealots. He seemed content with burning those and gave me a fist-bunt of approval and a smile saying, “Right on.” I giggled as he walked away.