Sherman DeBrosse : Tea Baggers, Nativism, and the Fall Elections

Cartoon from the book Heroes of the Fiery Cross (1928) by nativist Branford Clarke that opposed immigration and promoted the Ku Klux Klan. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An open letter to E.J. Dionne
concerning Tea Baggers, nativism,
and the possibility of reasoned discussion…

By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / September 14, 2010

[The following is an open letter to E.J. Dionne, written in response to his column, “It’s Not Over Till it’s Over,” published in the Washington Post and distributed by Truthout, in which Dionne suggested that Obama’s recent comments and tone — starting with his Labor Day speech — have raised the stakes in this fall’s elections, and that the presumption of a massive Republican sweep may be overstated.

Dionne referred to “a deeply embedded media narrative that sees a Republican triumph as all but inevitable.” “Paradoxically,” he added, “such extravagant expectations may be the GOP’s biggest problem — by raising the bar for what will constitute success.” Dionne also suggested that “the costs of tea party extremism are beginning to balance the benefits of the movement’s energy.”]

I’m asking you to put on your academician’s tam for a moment.

Your column on President Obama’s counterattack was excellent. The only antidote to Tea Bagger hysteria is reasoned discussion.

Unlike some, I do not apply Anthony Wallace’s “revitalization movements” theory to all sorts of things, and I do not subscribe to the various stages people write about. However, the Tea Baggers do seem very much like the Ghost Dancers of the late 19th Century.

Millennialism movements have been important in our history and the Revitalization Movement, as a subset, is particularly important. This one is very significant due to its size and the speed with which it surfaced. Revitalization movements can also be labeled political fundamentalism because those within it have the attitude of survivors, reverting to unquestionable truths and withdrawing into a protective mental cocoon that usually cannot be penetrated by reason.

Revitalization movements emerge when there is intense societal stress and people seek fundamental changes in society because they feel threatened and deprived. In this case there are multiple overlapping crises: economic, socio/cultural, and terroristic, and nativism — fear of the “Other” — is at the center.

That is why Islamophobia has become so important lately. That has something to do with Obama as symbol of the “Other.” This explains why educated people can be sure Obama is a Muslim — above all the fear presented by growing numbers of non-whites and the presence of an African American in the White House. These folks think their social identity is threatened.

I’m not sure it is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.” These people have better than average incomes and educations and are disproportionately older. Tea Bag Republicans fear that health care reform will threaten their Medicare benefits. That is why Democrats must stress over and over again that they added years to Medicare’s viability.

These people are better fixed than most but they fear future economic privation, and they need to be reminded that the biggest threat to their Social Security and Medicare is presented by Republicans. Reason might penetrate a few.

The common thread seems to be nativism. In the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, the Pueblos killed 400 Franciscans and Spaniards. Nativism was also the center of the Handsome Lake cult and the Ghost Dancers. Today’s Tea Baggers are in a literal frenzy to purge their world of “foreign influences.”

Foreign or “Other” means the hippies of the Sixties, the newly assertive gays, people of different colors, and above all blacks and Hispanics. Obama has become the symbol of all that they fear, and to them, it is reasonable to think he was born in Africa, is sympathetic to the goals of terrorists (as 52% of Republicans believe) and that he is a Muslim.

The Bush administration successfully separated anti-terrorism from perception of Islam. A measure of how far the revitalization movement has gone can be seen in the nationwide protests about putting a useful Islamic Center in a bad neighborhood, two blocks away from Ground Zero. The center could not even be seen from that hallowed site.

People like Newt Gingrich previously refrained from identifying Islam with terrorism; now they conflate them because that will add some Republican votes in November. In order to lock down a huge November victory, these Republican hate-mongers are willing to stoke Islamophobia, which leads to the endangerment of American troops and the recruitment of terrorists.

During the Bush years, anti-Muslim sentiment was rife among conservatives, but muted because none of them wanted to damage Bush’s foreign policy. There was even a very ugly intra-conservative campaign against Grovner Norquist because he married a Muslim and brought some Muslim leaders to the White House.

On the other hand, the conservative press cranked out pseudoscholarly volumes about “Islamofascism” — whatever that is. But with Bush out of the White House, there was no longer any reason to tone down the prejudice and hatred of Islam. Newt Gingrich is now sounding off about “Islamic triumphalism” and relating the 51st Street Islamic Center to that.

In addition, Gingrich is telling people that to understand Obama, it is necessary to see the president fundamentally as a Kenyan militant. The former Speaker is not a birther, but he is saying that Obama is very OTHER and not to be trusted, especially by our allies, the former imperial powers.

This is irresponsible and reckless behavior. Gingrich is a seasoned politician holding a Ph.D. He did not stumble into this nonsense. He made the deliberate calculation that political fundamentalism and the revitalization movement would still be powerful in 2012.

Usually one charismatic leader is needed in a revitalization movement. But with mass communications, the Tea Bag movement can move ahead without one central figure. This movement has a number of effective demagogic leaders, including Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. Gingrich has some of the makings of an effective rabblerouser, but his need to show that he is smart gets in the way.

Another characteristic of the movement is its unitary nature. These people are insisting on a new orthodoxy and would install a thought policeman in everyone’s head if they could. It is important that they think they are getting back to real Americanism, even though their leaders seem to have embraced the political heresies that led the South to secession.

It is common for people in these movements to fear the state, and the nature of their rhetoric preconditions people to violence. However, there are so many people sharing this spirit that it is unlikely that much violence will occur. They perceive their prospects of ultimate success as good, so violence is pointless.

Revitalization movements can be political without being religious, but the umbrella of religion adds authority. Hence Glenn Beck moved belatedly to give himself religious credentials and sought to add a religious canopy to his movement at Lincoln Memorial.

Psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich saw an intense strain of political fundamentalism in the Germany of the 1930s. He attributed it to repressive parents and sexual frustrations. Konrad Lorenz, a Nazi sympathizer who later won a Nobel Prize in genetics, never got beyond thinking that many — probably most people — are just emotionally wired to accept such appeals. At bottom, most people fear death and also cannot deal with severe crises, they need to live in a world of illusions and fear the conclusions reason might present.

Many times when there have been Democratic presidents, well-financed movements sprung up to oppose them. The American Liberty League opposed FDR with libertarianism and lavish spending, but it was relatively small. The John Birch Society was somewhat larger and used libertarianism and outrageous conspiracy theories to go after John F. Kennedy. The arguments of the League and the Birchers could be met and defeated in the public arena.

Ronald Reagan transformed the media environment in many ways, making possible the eventual triumph of the Right. When Ronald Reagan’s FCC appointees ended the fairness doctrine, they handed the Right a weapon so powerful that it could be used to transform American politics.

Conservative talk shows will always far outdraw liberal ones because they play to basic emotions. The arguments they make are very simple and do not rely upon facts or complicated reasoning. Countering the arguments made on right wing media is a little like the man who tries to gather feathers from a pillow which has been cut open so the contents are spread to the four winds.

Bill Clinton faced the Arkansas Project, a very well financed and organized effort that questioned his legitimacy and spun endless conspiracy theories around the false claim that Clinton had Vince Foster killed.

Today’s Tea Baggers are far more numerous and better financed and organized than their predecessors. They subscribe to selective libertarianism, almost all the odd rightist conspiracy theories of the past, but draw their enormous energy from fear and hatred of the “Other.” With FOX News — which just gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association — and the many shock jocks promoting the Tea Bag wing of the Republican Party, it is no wonder it has taken over the Republican Party and the conservative movement. There are no Bill Buckleys to push back.

It is unclear just how Tea Baggism came about. Perhaps its origins were in those Sarah Palin political meetings that looked so much like Klan rallies. Scholars claim these movements do not last long, but they wrote the same thing about right-wing populism, which has lasted more than 30 years and is a permanent force in our national life.

Maybe it was ginned up by super-bright academicians in conservative think tanks. That cannot be proven. It is clear that conservative consultants understand far more about the non-rational and cognitive science than progressives.

Through reason, Obama and the Democrats can reactivate some progressive voters. IF the spell of the Tea Baggers is to be broken, the Democrats must take a chance on discussing the issues and shattering illusions that make people feel good about themselves and their future.

[Sherman DeBrosse is a retired history professor. He also blogs at Sherm Says and on DailyKos.]

The Rag Blog

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6 Responses to Sherman DeBrosse : Tea Baggers, Nativism, and the Fall Elections

  1. I love you guys, you never fail to deliver the goods. Everytime I pass around some quotes from the articles/comments here, it gets people fired up at ‘elistist scumbags’ as one woman fondly called you. They then talk to their family and friends and voila, more new conservative activists and voters.

    This blog and others like it are the best things that has ever happened to the new conservative movement.

  2. Brother Jonah says:

    yeah, the anti Intellectual Elitists and Extremists of the Tea Party would go for carefully selected quotations from people they consider Anti-American.
    Of course, they’ll also say that anybody who notices that defending the Current System, the one that hasn’t actually changed in any way, and it’s reliance on Insurance Company DEATH PANELS killing people like, say, My Wife, at the rate of 120 a day, more every month than were killed on 9/11, and that’s just the ones who HAD insurance and were denied health care… Those of us who don’t have any chance at all of getting Health Insurance die uncounted…

    Or their retarded insistence that President Obama isn’t legitimate by reason of Racist Conspiracy Theories touted by the Extreme Right Wing doesn’t constitute Anti-American Rhetoric simply because, as Sarah Failin’ and Not-Really-Joe, the Not-a-Real-Plumber advanced the same notion, they and ONLY they get to choose who is or is not a REAL American.
    And that anybody who doesn’t join them in their Hate Feast is squarely in the “is not” category.

    Or that their Klan Rallies using this theme are somehow not Racist merely because the Right Wing Extremists say they’re not and anybody who says they are is part of the Left Wing Islamo-Fascist Conspiracy.
    I guess some people just can’t get over the idea that a person who is darker than them and who they can’t accept as being a REAL American, even though he is, can be elected to any public office.

    If the TeaTards don’t win through scaremongering, telling the people that “Others” will harm them if they don’t vote for the TeaTard Ticket, what will their extremist wingnuts do next? Go to violence as the answer, like they already did with Bill Sparkman in Clay County KY?

    They got faced down at the anti-American “no mosque” rally on 9/11/10 by a rally which WASN’T financed and organized by DumFox Noose Nutwerx and was populated by Americans who actually CAN see which party is of the greatest threat to Americans and our Liberties.

    Their lynching of Bill Sparkman was accomplished mostly by their Gang Mentality mob having him cornered and outnumbered. They tried the same thing just a few weeks ago at the WTC Memorial with a construction worker because he had swarthy skin, and was wearing paraphernalia of the Rastafarian Church… a CHRISTIAN movement, and said it “looked Muslim”

    Maybe if the self-appointed arbiters of who is or is not a “REAL” American should learn to distinguish between aspects of their Racist Hatred.
    They can’t tell the difference between Christian symbolism and Muslim Symbolism, so what gives them any sort of Intellectual or Moral superiority? Nothing. They are Klan_2.0 and show it every time they open their extremist yaps.
    Try explaining any of this on a Reich Wing Klan Sarah Palin Fan site and you get treated as a troll no matter how rational your argument and banned from the site.
    I believe the Right Wing actually ARE laughing their retarded arse off because Liberals and Progressives actually allow their extremist viewpoints to come out on Leftist blogs and don’t try to suppress the Right Wing Noise Machine.
    Probably think it’s some kind of weakness on our part.
    Unlike Sarah Palin, who told the people “don’t sit down or shut up” while she was having people violently removed from her rally for “heckling” her Royal Majesty.
    Yeah, that’s some “freedom” the TeaTards actually stand for. Freedom to comply with THEIR racist agenda.
    They don’t have the ability to remove everybody though. I bet it eats their Nazi livers to think about it.

  3. Jonah, thanks for making my case so well.

    You, and most of the others here despise mainstream Americans, or at least think they are too stupid or too racist to make good choices on their own. This allows me, and others like me, to crystalize the whole complex political and cultural debate down to this simple fact:

    “People on the left despise you, mock you, think you are stupid, think you are a racist, and want to destroy the life you have made for yourself. Here is proof, read comments from these Progressive academics, journalists, activists, doctors, social worker and just regular Progressive folks”

    The best part of the argument is, it is 100% true and verifiable. I dont need to quote out of context to make that case. I can provide dozens of links to comments and articles that prove my argument. Thank you all again for all your assistance.

  4. Brother Jonah says:

    Now, see, you’re saying that the culture of Mainstream America, which your TeaBags define as White and at the very least Middle Class, are individuals who can say who is or is not American. You will NEVER have that right or power

    You say that your arbitrary Maintstream gets to decide who gets religious freedom, or for that matter any freedom..

    You also, and this hit me on a personal level 25 years ago and then again when your Reaganomics which you worship as though it was a god, contributed not only to an on-the-job accident that left me with broken feet, but also to the denial of medical care. The same way, 7 years earlier, you and your Reaganomics MURDERED an American named Martha Jamie Helton Brown, through denial of Health Care. Your TeaBag Tantrum Party are saying that “Mainstream” America Does not want poor and disabled people to live and that we should all just DIE to put money into the pockets of YOU and your Rich Bitch Whoremasters.

    You want to prance around pretending to be Revolutionaries, well, Revolution means rejection of the Established Order, not trying to shout down or , in some cases, MURDER your fellow Americans because they don’t join your Mob.

    Your Mob is funded and directed by the Rich Masters who are opposed to the right to even so much as Life for people they decide is “not a Real American”.

    You LIE and say that the Anti-American nature of deciding which Americans aren’t allowed to be Americans is somehow Patriotic
    Well, Somebody has to be the grown-up and it sure ain’t going to be Beck or Palin, Paid Propaganda Whores for your Corporate Death Squads. They make money by lying, they wouldn’t make money from telling the truth.
    Sarah said “don’t sit down or shut up” while she was having people VIOLENTLY removed by her PIG comrades, at public expense, for Daring to talk back to Her Highness.
    But again, you get to decide that the Americans who “heckled” the Racist Whore aren’t “real” Americans.

    I noticed, too, that the TeaBags, on such occasions where they actually get physical do it when the victim is outnumbered. Like the Rastafarian fellow your PIG TeaBag comrades jumped at Ground Zero because he “looked Muslim” or the NY American Muslim cabdriver your Thug TeaParty Scum stabbed to death because he didn’t bow down to them or your Royal Mistress Sarah. Or Bill Sparkman, your Thug Lynch Mob jumped him on a deserted road.

    That’s typical TeaBag and Republican “Courage” and that’s the vision of America your “conservative” comrades want to “conserve”? Hatred and cowardice and the inability to tell the truth?

    You’re God-damned right people are going to oppose that shit.

    Turns out those of who oppose the TeaBags think that the actual Mainstream of Americans AREN’T your tantrums-throwing TittyBabyParty, and that Americans are actually far more decent than that.

  5. Brother Jonah says:

    Oh, and I noticed that your “No Mosque” Fox News organized and funded Shriek-fest on Saturday was far outnumbered by people who actually believe in Freedom of Religion and took a stand against your TeaBag Racists.

    You want to use the Confederate battle flag, (the American equivalent of waving the Swastika flags at Jews,) and say that it’s not about Hatred… use that and other trappings and tactics of your Parent KKKorporation the Klan, you go right ahead. Show your hatred in everything you do, and it will make it easier for people to see what you really are rather than what you say you are. Tactics like Lynching. Your Ku Klux Komrades lynched Bill Sparkman in the very county, Clay County, that was the precinct of Judge Lynch for whom the act was named.

    But, sure, you don’t HATE black and muslim and un-orthodox Christian and Hispanic and disabled and just any other adjective you can assign to the noun American… you just don’t believe we’re equal to you or your supposed mainstream. Your fellow TeaBags are the ones who paint themselves as racists and terrorists. The rest of, we just notice it and report it, and contradict your lies every time you spew them, about how you stand for “Freedom” or “America”.

    As for lying to me, saying that your opposition to the Health Care that’s necessary for americans who are poor and disabled to even survive, is somehow Patriotism… You’re killing your and My fellow Americans with that denial of health care and doing it in the name of Liberty. Like your own Joe Wilson said in Congress, only to the WRONG people, YOU LIE! and you lie mainly to yourselves. Killing Americans with denial of health care is every bit equivalent to killing Americans by throwing airplanes at buildings. More so because you kill, just counting those who HAVE your “free” market insurance and are denied care, 120 AMERICANS each day, almost 4000 a month, more each month than were killed on 9/11. YOU define yourselves as Anti-American Murdering Terrorists.

    We just notice it and report it.

  6. Ease down there Brother Jonah. You are a crazy bastard but I dont want you popping a vein in your head. Its gonna be ok. Hating on us is just getting you all worked up.

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