Monday, March 29, 2010

Tea Party Madness: Old School Prejudice's Last Stand

At the outset of the Tea Party demonstrations, comparisons were made to The Civil War by myself and other people. In retrospect, this was far too generous a comparison to make. I hardly wish to grant such people so high a compliment, even one rendered ignobly. In much more eloquent terms than I, people have recently dissected the motives and behavior of the mob, and fortunately its crackpot ideology is not as widespread as was the secessionist sentiment in the South in 1860. Those times were the apex of more than two decade's worth of upheaval and violence, the likes of which we have yet to see since, and which I hope to never see again. It takes more than just one unpopular bill to give people cause to most citizens to arm themselves en masse in open rebellion. Many may not support health care reform, but they feel no compulsion to vandalize offices, spit on legislators, and hurl epithets. These are merely the actions of a few reactionary imbeciles.

The behavior of the Republican Party towards the Teabaggers, by contrast, is what I find most reprehensible. Never was a mutually parasitic relationship more shockingly transparent. The GOP sees the Tea Party as its meal ticket back to power and will never condemn its tactics outright since doing so risks losing its endorsement. However, it is a slippery slope that Republicans are scaling here, and making a Faustian bargain has proven to be the eventual undoing of many. Fear of change and fear of the unknown is the energy source of this movement, but it goes much deeper than this, too.

If one had to summarize the most profound anxiety of the Tea Party set, it would be a belief that when whites lose their status as the majority racial group that they will in effect lose their grip on power and in so doing be punitively punished and subjugated by whichever minority group happens to control the gavel. One sees evidence of this fear way back in 1915 in a particularly offensive, but nonetheless emotionally powerful scene from The Birth of a Nation, whereby the Reconstruction-era legislative body in the state of South Carolina, the majority of which is comprised of newly freed African-Americans, takes great pleasure in passing retaliatory laws which reduce whites to the status of second-class citizens. This particular excerpt was such a successful piece of conservative agitprop that, as late as the 1960's, it was shown in schools and presented as though it were the God's honest truth. The underlying message is, I regret to admit, a viewpoint stressed by many I have known in my own life and many I know now. Regardless of its veracity, it is a nonetheless powerful idea to implant into the mind of anyone at a formative year in one's development and a difficult one to undo once it has blossomed.

A backlash against racial quotas, Affirmative Action, and our system of social service agencies for the poor also motivates those compelled to entertain the worst-case-scenario and a particularly dim view of progress. The belief among many Teabaggers is that the continued existence of these programs only perpetuates an underclass mentality of laziness and inactivity when people just need to get off of their derrieres and go to work. This is nothing new, of course. What might be new is the messenger. If the Tea Party has any African-American voice in solidarity, it is probably Pastor James David Manning, whose abrasive, provocative sermons threaten and chastise black people to start working hard and to refuse to rely on welfare because if they don't, and I quote, "Mexicans will be signing your paychecks". Manning's most recent attack, the language of which I have more-or-less pulled directly from its description of a YouTube clip, has centered on his assertion that President Obama, who he derisively calls "The Long Legged Mack Daddy", was, in fact, a C.I.A operative who used Columbia University as a cover to go to Pakistan in 1981 when the CIA and the Mujahideen worked together against the Soviet Invasion. Manning insists, with a straight face, that Obama supplied arms, logistics, and money using his Muslim background. Manning's ATLAHWorldwide ministry even seeks to put the President on trial for this accusation.

Among certain whites, a resumption of the militant voices of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X with the first black President in the White House are still latent fears among some, particularly those who remember Black Power. I recall during the 2008 campaign having a largely frustrating discussion with a staunchly Republican voter, a man my late Grandfather's age, who was convinced Barack Obama would rule like a combination of Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson. When I mentioned, quite offhandedly, that he was, in fact, biracial, and furthermore had been raised by a white mother and a white Grandmother, his fears were assuaged considerably. When I added that, furthermore, Obama was a Christian, not a Muslim, this also went a long way towards assuaging his anxieties. I wish I had not had to resort to these tactics, but by that point I was frankly tired of listening to one distortion of the facts after another and decided to try my best to short-circuit a rant.

The good news is that, very shortly, those of a certain generational mindset will die, and with them will perish many of the more infuriating elements of the Tea Party that have raised the blood pressure of so many in recent days. This isn't to say that problems won't always exist and there won't be a need for Progressives to continue to push forward against a tremendous amount of resistance on the other side, but rather to say that attitudes which have historically blighted our past will very shortly cease to blight our future. This is the natural course of events as it always has been. Our time here has always been limited, though we are often not aware of how finite we are until we reach the end of our lives. This then, might be the best encapsulation of that which we see now, the last gasp of those who are frothing at the mouth because they recognize at last their own mortality and in so doing, know that they are on their way out.

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