I have a small handful of correspondents firmly rooted in their brand of tea party libertarianism that led them to endorse Trump, albeit with limited enthusiasm. Nevertheless, they feel obligated to defend him, and are deeply suspicious of Biden: a nice old guy they are certain is subservient to radical left wing forces intent on turning America into a socialist state destroying the values of individual self sufficiency that built this country. Trump, they admit, may not be worth much, but at least he will protect the way of life they believe in.
What way of life do they believe in? I think it has to do with a world view firmly grounded in the myth of rugged pioneer individualism. It’s a story, partly true, about pioneer families leaving Eastern civilization behind to find a new life of freedom and opportunity in wide open Western lands. Good land was there for the taking if they had the grit to wrest it from nature and defend it from others. It required hard work with no expectation of help, but it escaped oppressive rules and taxes serving the interests of monied coastal elites. It’s an odd myth mixing self sufficiency, freedom of open spaces, and a defensive stockade mentality always on guard against potential threats, real or imagined.
The truth of the story lies in the courage and perseverance of those who came, stayed and built the communities of the West. It conveniently ignores the Indian Wars that cleared the land for them, the Homestead Acts that gave them rights for a part of it, and the state authorized and funded railroads giving them access to urban markets. It cherishes the romantic stories of gun slingers, prostitutes, and vigilante law, but not the reality of violence and degradation that accompanied them . It knows nothing of the Chinese exclusion acts, or Sundown Laws. It’s ignorant of American Indian history, and is only marginally interested in today’s reservations. In our day, it ignores the tax funded reality of highways, dams and locks, airports, and gigantic farm programs providing a modicum of economic stability to the risky business of farming. It’s unaware that it’s a myth of hard won opportunity reserved for whites only.
Though succeeding generations are far removed from a pioneer past that never existed, they have adopted for themselves the values and virtues the myth celebrates. It isn’t preached or taught so much as assumed. From time to time it bursts into the political arena with a vengeance, as it did with the advent of tea partyism after Obama’s election. Perhaps its darkest side is denial that any other ethnic or racial group has had it any harder than they have. They’ve had to overcome all the obstacles placed in anyone’s path, and have. If others haven’t, it’s their own fault, and has nothing to do with racism – a word they believe liberals use to indiscriminately malign hard working, straight thinking conservative libertarians.
Those whose world view is anchored in the myth of rugged pioneer Individualism appear to believe government (whether local, regional or national) is an incidental necessity and an ever present threat to freedom. It can never be trusted and must always be held in check. They’re not disinterested in the greater good of the community, but define it as local, voluntary, and limited to those near by who share the same values. For them, the liberal consensus that has guided American policies since the 1930s is an abhorrent attack on their freedom, a dangerous path to communist servitude. It’s a curious thing because the benefits of modern society on which they rely, and would be loathe to give up, are products of the liberalism they detest.
A world of radical libertarianism they cherish, one founded on the right of each person to act with limited restraint in his or her self interest would, I believe, prove Thomas Hobbes right. It would devolve into a world of savage competition in which wealth and power would accrue to the few, with the many becoming little more than serfs: “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Somehow, I think they know that too. It’s revealed in their enthusiasm for law and order. Maybe it’s not socialism they fear. Maybe it’s tax funded resources extended to undeserving others, others who are not the hard working, self sufficient descendants of the mythical pioneers.