Tea party mentality is usually associated with conservative libertarians who believe individual rights are threatened by government interference. They hold that individual rights are superior to the needs and rights of the community. Trying to be subtle about it, they subordinate the rights of others to the rights of whites, and white men in particular, disguising them as traditional American values. They’re suspicious of claims about systemic racism, the danger of wealth and income inequality, or the need for government to regulate broad sectors of society such as education, environmental quality, business practices, and guns.
In a curious way, the same tea party mentality is also present among some left wing liberals. It’s less obvious because they don’t have a tea party flag to fly. They might as well borrow one from the other side, because there isn’t much difference in their thought processes. Although coming at issues from a more communitarian point of view, they share assumptions in common with the right wing.
One is the need for an enemy who is the root and cause of all the ills in society. Both are sure the enemy is coastal and elite. For one, the coastal elite are over paid, over educated closet socialists. For the other, the coastal elite are high income corporate leaders and scions of inherited wealth. Each considers the other to be anti democratic. Each considers the other to be unworthy of national leadership. Each is suspicious of any who are more centrist, whether left or right: either they’re faking it, or they don’t stand for anything.
Another is their shared faith in the power of government to fix it, whatever it may be. Conservative tea partiers proclaim distrust of government, but that ends with their intention to use every power government possesses to establish a social and economic order acceptable to their libertarian ideals. Liberal tea partiers don’t distrust government. They distrust the people in government, and want new occupants who will use every power it possesses to establish a social and economic order acceptable to their ideals of equity in community. Each is certain that corporate leaders and inheritors of wealth are on the other side. Each has little evidence and many rumors to support their case.
To be sure, there are organizations of the corporate elite, such as the Koch Network and ALEC, that do what they can to manipulate each side in favor of their own interests. In lends credibility to liberal and conservative tea party fears, fertilizing the ground for growing conspiracy theories about unknown, unnamed, secret other networks of liberals or conservatives. Oddly enough, elite networks such as ALEC, and run of the mill corporate lobbying organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are utterly predictable, their motives are transparently self centered, they’re the epitome of political shape shifting as conditions change, and they’re adept at manipulating the most gullible in society. Not much secret about them. But I digress.
A third is their shared belief that some people are unfairly more privileged that others. Conservative tea partiers are certain that racial minorities, the lazy poor, and dreaded coastal elites have become the privileged classes, depriving conservatives of the right to live freely in whatever way they desire. Liberal tea partiers are certain that conservative tea partiers, white nationalists, and wealthy (white) people are privileged in ways that keep others from enjoying opportunities for economic and social upward mobility. There is truth in that, but tea party mentality leads toward French Revolution reign of terror solutions –– Off with their heads! Battering conservative and liberal tea party enemies into submission may feel like satisfying revenge, but what a waste of emotional energy when real work awaits.
There are ways to make free democratic societies less hindered by systemic injustice and practices that threaten the environment, of which we have had too many for too long. For the most part, those ways are the product of progressive thinking displayed in progressive agendas. Conservative cautionary restraint serves to check liberal excesses, and sometimes offers better alternatives. Obsession with small government isn’t one of them. Community health and well being, from local to national, depends on government to marshal needed resources. The modern world requires national and multinational policies and programs that can productively engage with national and global conditions. It can’t happen without a strong federal government addressing matters that know nothing of local, state and national boundaries.
In the best of all possible worlds, right wing tea partiers will by stymied by a federal government that won’t allow them to return the nation to mid 20th century social values, white middle class hegemony, and the freedom to discriminate without being discriminated against. Left wing tea partiers will be disappointed that some will continue to have more wealth than others, and with it they will be able to purchase more opportunities than others. The American ideal anticipates a reasonably unrestricted flow of upward and downward mobility that resists the establishment of a permanent upper or lower class, but both will exist. Removing systemic obstacles to upward mobility will not block the path to downward mobility. Reversing policies that create excessive income and wealth inequality will not eliminate higher income with more wealth for some, and less for others.
We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, but until the current presidency and senate majority leadership, we’ve tried to head in that direction. Now we face the question of whether our democratic republic can survive the challenge of would be authoritarian rulers. How it will turn out remains to be seen.