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The Tea Parties: Built on Fear, Violence and Race Resentment

Racism and xenophobia have been central to the Tea Party movement from the start; while not all of them are racist, they swim in a sea of white racial resentment.

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In these trying times, this bubble must be burst if we are to find common ground in a community of shared political interests. However, as reinforced by the conservative media apparatus, this is a very difficult wall to tear down.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A healthy democracy rests upon a responsible media, a responsible public, and responsible political parties. These three pillars of American democracy have all in some part failed as evidenced by the violent and racist high-jinks of the Tea Party movement both before and after the vote on health care reform. In the worst examples, the conservative media have encouraged the fear-mongering, anger and violence of the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party has failed to condemn the racism and violence of their populist wing. Instead they have made excuses for their excesses as “the reasonable actions of upset people.” The Tea Party public has failed to the degree that they have not been given reasonable and accurate information by the conservative media, information that they can in turn use to make reasoned decisions about health care. All three have failed the test of good citizenship and civic virtue.

Tragically, many of the fears driving the Tea Party movement are shared by most Americans. The United States’ economy is seemingly broken. Corporate power runs amok and unchecked. There is a crisis in faith in our government. We live in a world in which America’s preeminence is rapidly declining. Ultimately, the social contract between citizens and the State is seemingly bent if not broken--the Great Recession has exposed that the American civil religion of upward mobility, job security and economic prosperity is a cruel lie. Instead of coming together in these trying times, we are being driven apart.

Worse yet, the Tea Party uprising is being heralded by leading thinkers as an example of “people power” or a revitalization of the best radicalism of the 1960s—just differently rooted in the middle America, Walmart crowd. If history tells us anything, it is that in times of economic tumult race and racial resentment come to trump mutual class interests. In keeping with this lesson, the sad reality of the Tea Party movement is that while its members imagine that they are speaking truth to power, in many ways they are being manipulated, motivated and funded by the very same economic forces that are exploiting them in the global economy.

Where are the adults in the room who will explain this to the Tea Party populists? When will responsible Republicans stand up and demand moderation and reason? Will someone put their hand on the shoulders of the Becks, Limbaughs, Hannitys, Palins, and O’Reillys of the world and tell them that enough is enough?

All of the Tea Partiers are not racists. To suggest as much would be unfair and imprecise. Nevertheless, in the aggregate they have dropped their masks and are showing the American people who they have always been. Racism is their ether. Fear of change is their drug. Bad behavior and violence seem to be increasingly their modus operandi. They are quite likely not bad people per se. But, we acquire the qualities of our deeds. We are also colored by the actions of those whom we claim as allies.

By standing mute while racism, hostility, and incivility run rampant in their midst they are racist by virtue of accommodation, encouragement, and agreement.

The choice is theirs. The good folk in the Tea Party movement can choose to stand up and say “Not in my name.” Or they can stand mute and be judged by the deeds of their compatriots. I do hope they do the former.

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