Why I Worry about the Tea Party Authoritarians

I would like to see a moderate conservative party with sane politicians that balance Democratic excesses. But since Barack Obama’s election Republicans have been getting rewarded for running to the political margins of the far right. My fear is that a major terrorist incident (a nuke in the harbor of Long Beach, for example) would turn the country decisively into a right-wing authoritarian country. I think that what we’re witnessing within the Republican Party is right-wing authoritarianism, not George Will style conservatism, and, in a crisis, the result could be catastrophic for the country’s direction.

The Tea Party people are the “avant guard” for a coming authoritarianism. Their shameless enthusiasm for torture and gay baiting, their love of conspiracy theories and fundamentalist religion, and their demonization of liberals and urban cosmopolitan culture is softening the country up for future brash authoritarian moves. Like a frog in an ever-increasing temperature, once you can tolerate torture and gay bashing, why not, say, the preemptive use of tactical nuclear weapons against our strategic enemies? And if we need oil, why not just take it? And if Muslims are an existential threat to the “Christian West”, then let’s round-up American Muslims and start a civilizational war with the Muslim world. Anti-intellectual simplification breeds more of the same, and callousness breeds callousness. It’s why the Tea Partiers love an anti-intellectual like Sarah Palin and praise a violent maniac like Joe Stack as a “patriot.” The Republican Party is giving itself over to dark forces in the psyche: they are sowing the wind and are in the process of reaping a whirlwind.

I keep praying the economy will turn around and the unemployment rate will come down because authoritarians thrive on crisis and economic misery. Unfortunately, the Bushies dug such a deep hole for the country that we may not come out for years. The very Keynesian stimulus programs and bailouts that kept the country from falling into Great Depression 2.0 have been so outrageously demagogued by the right that if we have another crisis it’s likely that our elected officials would simply let the country drop into it and right-wing authoritarians would consequently thrive and rule across the board. And memories, being short, would shift the blame for the crisis to Barack Obama’s time in office. I just hope that’s not what we’re about to witness.

History can take surprising directions, and I don’t think that an authoritarian turn in America is inevitable. But the very fact that history can take surprising turns also means that our country is by no means safe from authoritarianism.

Are we living in the Weimar Republic, and is Barack Obama, despite his youth and glamour, like the aged and feeble Paul von Hindenburg, presiding over a politically dead-locked government that leaves people clamoring for a “strong hand” and “strong hand measures”? Or is it Morning in America, and is Barack Obama the Democrats’ Ronald Reagan—a man on his way to presiding over six years of relative peace and prosperity and the progressive marginalizing of the far right?

For the sake of the country, I hope it’s the latter. I think that we all feel, collectively, that we’re on the cusp of something. But what?

For those interested in reading a book blurbed by Susan Sontag and published by the University of California Press, and which documents the Zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic even as it seems to channel the intellectual and social currents of our own time, see here. The book is very, very sobering reading.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to Why I Worry about the Tea Party Authoritarians

  1. jonolan says:

    So you want Liberal Lite to counterbalance the Leftists? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    And face it, if we have another crisis it will be because of the anti-Americanism of Obama and the Leftists who supported him. In that ever more likely event, responses by American against such and harsh reprisals against them would be both correct and necessary.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jonolan:

    What do you mean by harsh reprisals? Against whom, specifically?

    —Santi

  3. jonolan says:

    The reprisals I was speaking of would be against the Leftists; they’re a more entrenched enemy of America than any foreign body.

    The scope and severity of those reprisals, as well as their specifics, has to be dependent upon how far the Leftists go in trying consolidate their power before being overthrown.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Jonolan:

    Is Obama, by your way of thinking, a Leftist? And am I? What is this amorphous group that is going by the term Leftist?

    Are gays, as a group, Leftists? Are most college professors (like me)?

    What, exactly, would you do to them? Round them up for treason and put them in camps—or just tear up the environmental legislation that they might have gotten through Congress during a liberal period? What do you imagine a proportionate response to be?

    And what do you mean by overthrow? You mean simply defeating them in an election—or are you speaking of something violent?

    —Santi

  5. jonolan says:

    Obama is a Leftist when it comes to domestic and economic policies, and a dangerously cunning one in all likelihood. On foreign policy he is akin to Neville Chamberlain with sporadic paroxysms “Nixonism.”

    The gays a group? Do they exist as a group? Certainly some of them exhibit the anti-Americanism of the Left with their statist desires to try to legislate acceptance, but that more of an indication of fundamental flaws in their characters as opposed to anything directly related to their sexual preferences.

    College professors are a mixed lot, but the educational field was corrupted by the Left decades ago and many within it are little more recruiters for America’s enemies who have been foolishly allowed to have access to America’s youth.

    As for you in particular, I’m unsure and, as such, unwilling to render judgment – even though at the current time my judgment on these matters means statically nothing.

    Round them up for treason? 😆 Please! While there’d be a certain merit in that and it would be extremely emotionally satisfying, it would do far more harm than good in the long and set a very bad precedence – one that American ideals and our Constitution are supposed to preclude.

    No, the reprisals I would favor would be the destruction of the fundamental institutions that allow the Left to have any hope of achieving their agenda. By that I mean the swift and savage reduction of the scope and power of the centralized federal government and returning it to something closer to the levels that were envisioned and intended by the majority of our Founding Fathers.

    That also has the benefit of equally discomfiting the Social Conservatives who are nothing but statists with differing social agendas than the Left.

    As for overthrowing the Left – At the moment and if things progress no further I mean defeating them in the elections and doing in a referendum on their ideology. Think of Scott Brown’s election as an example – though I admit that I was totally sanguine about his campaign against Obama as opposed to Coakley.

    • Benjamin Steele says:

      The problem with those who argue anti-government ideology is that they’re in the minority. If you add the social progressives and the social conservatives who both support the state for their respective ends, you have a majority of the population. Most people want a fair and just government, but they don’t want the government to go away simply because it’s not perfect.

      Fear and anger towards the government increases during difficult times such as economic downturns. That fear and anger usually doesn’t last and pro-government sentiments return, but ironically if this outrage does last it typically leads to an even more authoritarian state rather than a less authoritarian state.

      The people who foment the outrage against what they perceive as authoritarianism often merely help authoritarianism to increase because they play into the hands of those in power who are trying to strengthen their power. People like Joe Stack just give the government the excuse to further increase laws and policies such as the Patriot Act.

  6. Benjamin Steele says:

    I worry about two things. I worry about the authoritarian tendencies of some of the people in the Tea Party and similar groups/movements. And I worry about those in power who exploit fear and anger to promote their own authoritarian agenda.

    Have you heard of Russ Baker? He is an investigative journalist. I’ve never read any of his books, but I heard an interview of him where he talked about his book ‘Family of Secrets’. I don’t know if I agree with his evidence or conclusions, but I agree with the general viewpoint. I do think there are those who have been manipulating politics towards specific ends. It’s not a conspiracy, but simply certain likeminded people who in most cases have inherited their power (e.g., the Bush family).

    Also have you heard of Bob Altemyer? He is a retired psychology professor. I recently came across his book which he made available online for free.

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    Most free online books aren’t worth reading, but this one looked like it might have some real insight. It’s looking at authoritarianism from both psychological and social perspectives. I’m intrigued by what I’ve read in it so far.

    I think authoritarianism also relates to denialism. With denialism, there is a populist mistrust of certain authorities that are seen as having agendas that the denialist disagrees with. These suspect authorities are generally the liberal elite (professors, scientists, news reporters, etc). Because these populists don’t trust that anyone knows more than they do, they think they have as much right to act as an authority. Their opinion is just as worthy or more worthy than the scientists working for the government. So, they create organizations and get involved in organizations that have influence over public policies.

    This goes back to the Texas situation. The Christians don’t trust the scientists and teachers. So, they try to intervene by controlling the textbooks and the curriculum. In case of Christians, their mistrust of authority is based on their mistrust of secularism for they see the Bible as the ultimate authority.

    The Tea Party has strong elements of denialism. They mistrust secularism and liberalism. They also mistrust science. Both Tea Partiers and Ron Paul Libertarians think Global Warming is a conspiracy of the One World Order or else some similar conspiracy.

    The sad part is the Republican party is trying to co-opt this movement. The GOP has always been successful in keeping this fringe element under their thumb. They direct these fringers to be paranoid of liberals all the while manipulating these people to their own ends. What is sad about this is that these fringers often do have legitimate criticisms.

  7. Santi

    You should take a look at this article, as well as this one, if you didn’t already.
    As a member of the rest of the world, I keep looking at these “developments” in The Big One with great concern. You have my sympathy.

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