Jamelle Bouie has a piece in The Daily Beast this week that deals with email comments made by Alan Grayson in which he compared the Tea Party with the Ku Klux Klan. Understandably, the comments have drawn a lot of attention as well as a lot of criticism, most of it from Republicans.
While Bouie does call out Grayson and points out that, however “objectionable” the Tea Party may be, they are a “far cry” from what the Klan was in its heyday, he does draw some distinctions between both, particularly with respect to how both view an emerging cultural diversity in the country and how that diversity is perceived as a threat to their way of life. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Tea Partiers are white and older is indicative of a “reactionary” fear of a future that portends less power and affluence for them. Such fears are often expressed in racist terms.
Such an expression recently reared its ugly head, ironically enough, in a segment on The Daily Show. In an interview with Aasif Mandvi, Don Yelton, a Republican precinct captain for the state of North Carolina, referred to some African Americans as “lazy black people that want the government to give them everything” and used the “N” word repeatedly.
The interview was enough to force Yelton’s resignation, but not because of his racist comments; because he was stupid enough to admit what everyone already knew: that North Carolina’s voter suppression law would “kick the Democrats in the butt.” You don’t let that cat out of the bag without paying a price.
But to the point at hand, these racist outbursts are becoming all too frequent in American society and it is simply not enough to dismiss them as the mere mindless ramblings of a few ignorant people. It’s deeper than that. In many ways, part of what we’re witnessing is as old as the Republic itself. Bouie explains:
For starters, it’s no accident that the Tea Party emerged during a period of mass immigration and rapid cultural change. Like the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s—which directed its energies against Catholic immigrants from Ireland—or the “modern” Klan of the 1920s—which, in addition to blacks, targeted Italians, Jews, and Eastern Europeans—the Tea Party has its roots in demographic anxiety; the profound fear that the country is turning into something foreign and un-American. Earlier this month, pollster Stan Greenberg released results from several focus groups he held with Tea Party and other Republican voters, in which they expressed their fears and concerns. His conclusion?
“They have an acute sense that they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly ‘minority,’ and their party is getting whooped by a Democratic Party that uses big government programs that benefit minorities, create dependency and a new electoral majority.”
But I think it’s far more sinister than that. There is an element of purity that runs throughout this movement that is eerily similar to what Germany went through in the 1930s. The effort to purge the GOP from so-called establishment Republicans and “retake” the country is right out of Mein Kampf.
In my opinion, Grayson missed the mark when he compared the Tea Party to the Klan. The real comparison should be to the Nazi movement. The us against them theme is classic fascist dogma. I’m not saying racism doesn’t play a significant role here, but mere racism isn’t enough to explain the maniacal fixation of this group. Their pursuit of political purity and their unwillingness to bend or compromise, even when it means almost certain cataclysmic consequences, is the driving force behind their tactics. Like the Nazi quest for racial purity, Tea Partiers see it as their duty to eliminate those who don’t subscribe to their narrow interpretations of the Constitution. One of their loudest champions – Mark Levin – has been unapologetic about this quest.
The last time the world witnessed a movement like this, it took a global war resulting in millions of innocent lives lost to get rid of it. This time the stakes are a lot higher. Germany, while a formidable military power during its reign of terror, was not close to the scale of the United States. The prospects of the Tea Party movement joining forces with the neo-cons who view the loss of American world hegemony as a threat to its interests and the Christian Right which decries the breakdown of social mores and values would be a trifecta straight out of hell.
If there is one bright spot, it is that this movement, despite the rhetoric of its leaders, is not terribly popular with a majority of voters. In the recent government shutdown, they severely overplayed their hand and have made a lot of enemies within the financial community who would normally be sympathetic to their views. The Republican Party establishment is also beginning to push back against them, apparently undaunted by the specter of what will certainly be a wave of primary challenges next year.
No one knows for sure how all this will play out. But one thing is for certain: the racism the permeates the Tea Party is as overt as any we’ve seen in this country in over a century. And their motives couldn’t be more obvious. The fact that Alan Grayson ruffled a few feathers and opened a scab that had grown infected, doesn’t mean he was wrong to do it. Indeed, until the nation has the courage to clean this wound and let it heal properly, it will never be rid of the infection that continues to plague and undermine its alleged heritage.