The Tea Party Disconnect

How did American politics come to be about taking rights away from people when the founding of our country was centered on the giving of rights? And how is it that the group that rants the most about lost rights turns out to be the one most in favor of denying them to anyone else?

The United States was founded on a cresting wave of the ideals of the European Enlightenment, on ideas of liberty and human rights, on the belief that all people have certain rights by nature, not because they have been granted by some political entity. But these ideals seem to be the last thing on the Tea Party’s mind.

There seems to be a disconnect here.

But they don’t want you to notice it. The people running as Tea Party candidates are like snake-oil salesmen; they seem to think if they talk fast enough, you won’t be able to keep up. They talk hard and they talk fast and they don’t stop for questions. They shy away from interviews and debates that might expose their precarious positions and they will deal only with their own approved propaganda agency: Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News.

If any of them are caught out on a lie or inconsistency or an inconvenient fact, they immediately go on the offensive and accuse the media of being biased; they use terms like “liberal media elite” or worse, and invoke paranoid fantasies about government operatives, Democratic plants, or schemes to discredit them. Their rhetoric is, as MediaMatters defines it, “extreme and dishonest” and it is bearing violent fruit.

Candidates and followers are of one mind on this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be allowed to get in the way of the siren call of their narrative. If you challenge them they will, like their darling, Sheriff Arpaio, go after you.

Theirs is a discordant narrative; one centered on a mélange of various complaints and perceived threats. Abortion is going to destroy our country; a vast gay conspiracy, a shadowy agenda, is working to destroy the American family and the fabric of American life; the specter of Sharia law is reaching out across the land and has already snared several American cities and threatens to envelop more, destroying American liberty; the government is the enemy, determined to take away our rights; any liberal government is an usurper government and only a government of conservatives is a legitimate government, just as the Founding Fathers intended.

But it’s all lies. And such lies!

The Tea Party runs a platform of nihilistic, fear-inspiring negatives. Like other authoritarian movements it offers nothing constructive but is designed solely to divide, not to unite. The rallying cry of “take our country back” begs the questions of “whose country?” and “from whom?” Obviously, given that America by definition must belong to all Americans, it became necessary to create the idea of “real” and false Americans. Once this category is properly defined we can easily spot the “false” Americans, the constructed Other, to better deny them their rights – liberals, women, gays and lesbians, Muslims, atheists and others who fail the new purity standards. The false Americans and their usurper anti-colonialist Kenyan president have the country; they want it back.

Again, they insist this is how the Founding Fathers wanted it.

Nationalism has not unreasonably come to be been seen in its extreme forms to be a disease. Untold millions were killed by excesses of nationalism in the 20th century. In the 19th century, as various nations came to grips with their past and tried to find a place for themselves in the present, they created false narratives and ideologies. The Tea Party’s embrace of the idea of American exceptionalism is more of the same; it takes us backward, not forward, casting aside history and its lessons, facts and their consequences, to support a fragile and inconsistent mythology designed to be a framework for false conservative assertions about this country.

In this the Tea Party has found a partner in the Religious Right. We are being assured, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that our nation was founded as a Christian nation upon Christian principles, that the Constitution is based upon the Bible and that the Ten Commandments were always the basis for American law. None of this is true of course; no Tea Partier can point to a single piece of evidence to support their contentions, but that does not stop people like Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle and others from repeating them anyway. And in the process America becomes like the Old Testament, born of exclusionary religion, about restrictions, and not, like the Constitution, born of an inclusionary secular Enlightenment, about rights.

Tea Party candidates rail loud and often about rights but the only rights they seem truly interested in are their own, the right to tell others how to live their lives. By creating a false image of themselves as a majority they hope to wield the tyranny of the majority that James Madison hoped the Constitution would hold at bay. They are absolutely opposed to anyone or anything directing their own, of course, including the legal system. They are above the law; they are above the commonly accepted normals of morality. The rules of the herd do not apply to them. And while they say they don’t want government interference, they are more than happy to embrace the federal government if it can be made to coerce others to adhere to their own ideology.

We should do away with the Department of Education because the federal government should not be allowed to interfere in our children’s education; we should do away with government regulation in the economic sphere because nobody should be able to tell corporations what they can and cannot do; there should be no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare and no minimum wage; we should take these rights away and deny those rights and we should re-write the history books to show that all these changes are justified.

They claim they want to go back to what the Founders intended, to the original meaning of the Declaration and Independence and Constitution but they want to eliminate this amendment or that amendment or all the amendments together. Yet clearly, since the Founders made amendments to the Constitution they intended amendments to be made.

It is difficult to understand how the Tea Party and its candidates can overcome this disconnect except by telling lies and they seem to have embraced dishonesty to the extent that it’s become their default setting. Witness Bachman’s “urban legend” defense, or Angle’s denial of the evidence of her own website, or O’Donnell’s denial of what is undeniable.  Tea Party dishonesty is widespread and easily spotted; the digital record does not lie: Watch them say it; watch them deny they said it.

We have to recognize that one lie begets another. The lies keep growing and you have to add new ones. It is a process that once begun is not easily ended. These lies sell to the base and they are often passed over by a right-leaning media but the majority of Americans like to ask questions.

Politics have never been known for their honesty, but what we are seeing here is a nationwide systems error, lies told about other lies and lies based on a false narrative of what the United States is and what the Constitution is and means. We cannot allow the Republicans to crown uninformed and uneducated non-readers like Sarah Palin as Constitutional experts, and we cannot allow the media to give free passes when such claims are made.

This is what makes the control of information so critical to Tea Party success. The lies must be told; they must be accepted at face value, and any discussion is to be avoided in favor of repetitious use of talking points which play to emotion and not to reason. The national media has largely failed in its responsibility not only to journalism but to veracity. The job of the media is not only to report what happens but to analyze it and given the egregious nature of that failure it is up to the voter to educate him or herself, to remake that connection the Tea Party has done so much to shatter.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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