Political fundamentalism, like right-wing populism is infectious. Not all elected Republicans are Tea Party types, and a decade ago not every Republican was on the hard right. But in both cases, the intransigeance and other characteristics of the populists and fundamentalists spread and infected the great majority of Republicans.
Even when 90 of Americans wanted background checks for gun purchases, the great majority of Republians proved too intransigeant to grant the public's wish. As Senator Pat Toomey noted, they simply could not vote for anything that might help Obama. In the minds of right-wing populists and political fundamentalists, he represents everything they oppose.
The first signs that right-wing political fundamentalism had leapt from the narrow confines of fringe politics to a major party turned up at the 2008 Palin appearances, which sometimes resembled Klan rallies. Then there were people carrying arms to intimidate people at Democrat rallies. After that, there were all the disruptions at the town meetings on health care. This tendency toward violent rhetoric is a mark of authoritarianism, and there are others:
Opposition to Compromise
Political fundamentalists are against politics in the sense that they think all politics are inherently corrupt because the process involves compromise. There is an extreme arrogance hers as they are certain they have all the answers and alone are qualified to impose their will. They want to impose their will and see compromise as backing away from principles. For this reason, Speaker-designate John Boehner now refuses to use the word “compromise” because he opposes what it stands for. If the Tea Baggers do not get their way, they want to obstruct and block action. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now says, “I wish we had been able to obstruct more.”
Right wing political fundamentalist groups the world over have been known to spout anti-government rhetoric. Much of the Tea Party anti-government rhetoric has been borrowed from what was once called the lunatic fringe. Just a decade ago, the intense anti-government sentiments we see today were confined to militia people and other extremists numbering somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000. 1 From time to time, Republicans have borrowed themes and rhetoric from these groups because that inflammatory rhetoric activated its base and attracted new followers.
Ronald Reagan began the process of appropriating ideas from the extreme right when he started it using states rights tropes and harping on the anti-government theme. Today, some of these anti-government themes are standard Republican talking points, and some people who were once in the extremist fringe groups are now recognized Republican leaders. Sarah Palin's husband Tod was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, whose founder accidentally blew himself up making a bomb. Mrs. Palin has attended and addressed their gatherings. Sharron Angle was a long-time member of the Constitutionalist Party who almost unseated Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
Much of the anti-government rhetoric now spouted by the Tea Baggers can be traced to the various fringe movements of the recent past, the militias, the Constitutionalists, the Alaska Independence Party, the Christian Identity movement, the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia, and others . All these communities of resistance and defiance of change have authoritarian and nativist characteristics. The two go hand in hand. Above all, they react against change. They see the government as an agent of unwanted change and they set out to disrupt and replace it. 2 They are serious about destroying government as it is and are attracted by the anti-government tactics of Republican politicians who claim to hate government but really want to control it.
Retired Republican Congressional aide Mike Lofgren wrote that several years ago a superior explained to him that it was Republican strategy tp obstruct and disrupt government. By damaging the reputation of government, the Republican Party will benefit at the polls because it is programatically against government. A few months ago, he was told that the party would create an artificial debt limit crisis for the same reason, to win votes by making government look bad.
The political fundamentalism and anti-statism of the Tea Baggers and their opposition to government leads to violent language, such as invocations of “the Second Amendment remedy” and to violent actions. n March, 2010 when Tea Baggers picketed the Capitol, many of them carried signs saying that they could use Browning automatics to stop Health Care reform if Senator Scott Brown’s vote were not enough to do it. During the excitement over health care, the offices of Democratic Congressmen and party locals were vandalized. A respected black Congressman was spit upon and others were called names.
Earlier, there was a great deal of verbal violence when Tea Baggers disrupted local town hall held by Democratic Congressmen. Some even brought weapons to intimidate people, and on few occasions Congressmen were barred from leaving peacefully. Sharron Angle, one of the most prominent Tea Baggers, was almost elected to the Senate in Nevada. She has frequently discussed the possibility of taking up arms against the government, what she calls the Second Amendment option. Other Tea Baggers speak about the “Second Amendment option,” which means using guns if votes do not accomplish what they want. Angle has also talked about nullification ans secession, and other Republicans, including Governor Rick Perry of Texas, have spoken favorably of secession. Taking such steps now amounts to political vionence and they could end in physical violence.
Within Tea Party ranks, there is violent language and threats of violence. Delaware Tea Bag leader Michael Ross was forced to flee his house due to a death threat, and his enemies in the movement called upon him to resign or be terminated. Minor domestic violence is associated with it, and there is a real potential for serious violence. There is a strong aversion to dissent or pluralism.
Jared Lee Loughner told no one why he shot Gabby Gifford and killed six others. Because he was clearly deranged, most people accept the idea that he was not influenced by all the ugly right wing rhetoric heard in Arizona. Her opponent in the recent election told people to “shoot a fully automatic M16” and people saw Sarah Palin's “target for victory” superimposed on Gifford. Psychiatrists tell us that even the mentally deeranged are shaped by the resentments and fears they experience around them. He was living in a place infected by right-wing hysteria, where there was much anti-government talk. Loughner repeated a lot of the anti-Federal Reserve talk, talk about a “second Constitution,” the crazi monetary schemes of the Right, and worried about big government mind control. These are all ideas hatched by the Constitutionalists and fringe right that hav e become part of the Republican canon. Odds are he was acting out what he heard in the rightist political arena.
The only way to explain this seems to be to cast these folks as extreme believers in what they think America’s traditional conventional wisdom is, which includes toxic doses of Social Darwinism—the idea that the most fit rise to the top of society and that the people at the bottom deserve their fates. Nazi Germany and the apartheid regime in the Union of South Africa were based on racism and a thorough Social Darwinism. Describing the latter, Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban once remarked that “An inhuman streak is conspicuous in every aspect of this country's public life.”
The inhuman streak begins in a few areas and spreads. In the United States, it long resided in racist attitudes and the social theories of those who believed that the poor had earned the right to live and die under bridges. It had a way of spreading. In 2009-2010, greedy senior citizens rose up in arms when they thought that their Medicare benefits might be trimmed a bit to provide funds to bring medical benefits to 35,000,000 other Americans. That turned out to be a misrepresentation. Now they are being asked to throw people 55 and under—including their own children-- under the bus so that their own Medicare benefits are safe.
Dionne has found that the Tea Party extremists particularly resented George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism because they did not think government should be doing more to help the poor and marginalized. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Wiliamson found that the Tea Party think in terms of “people who work” vs. people who do not work.” They do not oppose all entitlement programs and many of them are deeply involved in politics because Social Security makes that possible for them. But the maintain that they had earned their government retirement checks. Three quarters of them are over 45%; it is a revolt of a generation of grandparents. They are unhappy with young people who are not working and very angry about there being so many illegal immigrants in the United States. The people funding the Tea Party want to slash Medicare and Social Security, but the Tea Party voters see both as earned benefits. 3
The reaction against helping the poor has gone so far that there is a strong movement in Roman Catholic ranks to shut down the Bishops’ Campaign for Human Development. Over in Rome, extremists led by Americans, have succeswfully rerstricted the scope of Caritas International. The claim is that campaign officials sometimes cooperate with people who support abortion, but the real problem seems to be the growth of Social Darwinism in Catholic ranks. Another key element in the conventional wisdom is the belief in American exceptionalism, the God-given right to work its will anywhere in the world under the pretext of extending democracy and freedom. Related to that is a cultural fascination with death and violence which, according to sociologist/law professor David Garland, feeds into a national commitment to keep the death penalty.
Fear of “OTHERS” is a major mark of right-wing political fundamentalism.
To revitalize a society or culture, Tea Party people and other political fundamentalists resort to what they think is extreme orthodoxy and fear of foreign influence or the “Other” is at its core. Many Tea Baggers are in a literal frenzy to purge their world of "foreign influences " and take “back their” country. “Foreign” or “other” includes the hippies of the Sixties, the newly assertive gays, people of different colors, and above all blacks and Hispanics. Obama has become the symbol of all that they fear, and to them, it is reasonable to think he was born in Africa, is sympathetic to the goals of terrorists ( as 52% of Republicans believe) and that he is still a Muslim.
Nativism and demonizing the “Other” are essential to political fundamentalism. Jurgen Habermas, in discussing recent developments in Germany, wrote about frightened people reverting to the "leitkultur," which meant common notions about the necessity of racial purity to preserve the national identity.
Of course, the Right has transformed Barack Hussein Obama into the ultimate “other.”
This explains the Birther movement and the claims that Obama was an African Muslim Socialist. At the beginning of 2011, 51% of Republicans believed Barack Obama was not born in the United States. An April New York Times-CBS News poll showed that two-thirds of adult Republicans are either Birthers or are open to that absurd notion. The Birthers were financed by David and Charles Koch, who are worth $35 billion, brothers and other big interests. The Koch brothers also played a major role in getting the Citizens United decision, which opened politics to unlimited corporate money.
The Tea Bag wing leads the Republican Party in fulminate against various “Others, ” especially Barack Obama. Rush Limbaugh plays to peoples fears and phobias in a time of crisis by calling Obama “the best anti-American president the country ever had.” Somehow, right-wing extremists have blended fear of terrorists with distrust of President Barack Obama to make the claim that Obama is an African-born Muslim socialist. Rush Limbaugh refers to “Imam Hussein Obama” in an effort to portray the president as an Islamic socialist who was born in Africa. Many Republicans insist he was born outside this country. Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a likely contender for the 1212 Republican presidential nomination, does not quite endorse the “ Birthers,” excusing them by saying the people know almost nothing about Barack Obama.
Republican Senator David Vitter, whose escapades who sex workers who spanked him while attired in diapers became public three years ago, found it necessary to court Tea Bag votes by supporting litigation that would require President Obama to prove he was born in the United States. Half a year after confessing his involvement with prostitutes, he hired an aide who had been arrested for going after a girlfriend with a knife. That man was placed in charge of women’s issues and domestic violence. Then Vitter voted against an “anti-rape” amendment. With plenty of female support, Vitter is heading for re-election.
As late as July, 2010, a majority of Republicans still thought that Obama was born in Africa. Despite all the hard evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii, Fox News still covers the debate over his birth as a dispute between people with different opinions. Matters of fact simply are not important. Fox News recently donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.
According to a Pew poll, eighteen percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim and only 34% identified him as a Christian. Another 43% said they had no idea what his religion was! Conservative extremists also claim that President Obama is a Muslim and not a Christian. Mitch McConnell gave the go-ahead sign to his followers on the Obama as Muslim issue when he said “I take the president at his word” on the matter. Which was a “ dog whistle” for conservatives to keep up the wild charges.
A recent Harris poll showed that 38 % of Republicans think he is “doing many of the things Hitler did.” Almost a quarter of them (24%) think Obama could be the anti-Christ. Another recent poll showed that 52% of Republicans believe it is “definitely true” that Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists. The fact is that in 18 months he ordered the murder of more “high value” terrorists than Bush did in two terms. All of this data suggests that the campaign to make Obama the representative of threatening “Others” has been very successful. It is all about Obama is “un-American;” “he is “the OTHER.”
Not long ago, Glenn Beck claimed that Barack Obama was raised a Communist because his mother took him to a Unitarian Church in the 1950s. Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle endorsed the claim citing the same nonsense about how being a Unitarian meant one was a Communist.
An amusement company working a church festival outside of Allentown in 2012 offered a dummy of Barack Obama for patrons to shoot at. The game was called “Alien Attack,” and Obama was holding the “Health Bill.” There were targets on his heart and forehead , and he had some strange headgear suggesting he was an alien. The presidential seal was on his belt buckle. This game was at other festivals but the first complaint turned up at the Roseto, Pennsylvania festival. There were only two complaints! This deplorable game illustrates how violence and racism are intertwined in political fundamentalism.
A University of Washington study found that 47% of Tea Baggers thought Blacks were lazy. An even larger number, 68%, said African Americans enjoyed less prosperity than whites because they did not work hard enough. A quarter thought Blacks were unintelligent and nearly a fifth thought African Americans were untrustworthy.
Who can forget the ugly e-mails sent by Buffalo multimillionaire Carl Paladino, the Tea Bagger who became the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of New York. Some of it featured hard core pornography and bestiality. There was also “Birther” propaganda, peddling the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. There was an e-mail entitled “Holy Shit, run nigger, run.” One offered proof that the Irish discovered Africa; it showed monkeys dancing a jug. There was a picture of President and Mrs. Obama at a White House reception; she was inappropriately dressed and he was attired in a zoot suite. The president was called a “pimp” and “racist, “ and Michele was called a “prostitute.” There was a clip of African tribesmen labeled “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal.” It had been featured on the Neo-Nazi Stormfront website. All this had been discussed in the media and Tea Bagger Paladino still won a lopsided victory and is the Republican nominee for governor in the State of New York. One of his proposals was converting some state prisons into dormitories so that some of the poor could be taught proper hygiene. Dr. Jim Russell, a Tea Bag Republican candidate for Congress in the Empire State, is on record as opposing integrated schools and interracial relationships. The 2010 election resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of white Democrats holding office as United States Senators and Representatives. There are now only 24 left among the 155 southerners in Congress.
The evidence is clear that there is a good deal of plain and simple racism in the Tea Party movement. It is the kind based on the notion that African Americans are biologically inferior to whites. On the other hand, it is likely that there could be even more “soft-racism” there. This is the cultural and not the biological kind. It is rooted in the belief that there is something wrong and debilitating in African American culture. It is found in Senator Tom Coburn's criticisms of Barack Obama, whom the Oklahoman said had absorbed unhelpful notions about dependency from his African American culture.
This phenomenon also helps explain how so many Tea Party people and Republicans like Herman Cain, an African American pizza millionaire. Cain accused other African Americans who criticized Republicans of being racists and said that poor blacks have only themselves to blame for their condition Cain was the perf3ect anti-dote for the charge that Republicans were racists. He, like is white colleagues, wad denouncing the fabric of black culture, not the African-American genetic inheritance. Technically he was not a racist. He was endorsing what is called soft racism or cultural racism.
Chris Hedges has said that the Tea Party people are America's fascists. Surprisingly, a good case can be made for this charge. But perhaps, they have not gone as far toward authoritarianism as have fascists in the past. The truth is that a careful scholar could read the studies of the American Aryans and come away finding it very hard to distinguish between the Aryans and the Tea Baggers. The parallels are great and when one adds the Tea Bagger's adoption of the Aryans' constitutional views, the parallels are overwhelming. The two difference that will be found are that the Tea Baggers as a group do not subscribe to anti-Semitism or the biological form of racism.
Complaints about the otherness of Obama and the liberals are also leveled at the academic level. In an atmosphere laced with paranoia evidence and reason are not required. Professor Dinesh D’Souza, a celebrated conservative scholar, wrote that Barack Obama can best be understood as a Kenyan anti -colonialist. D’ Souza wrote in Forbes that Obama’s late father, a “philandering, inebriated African socialist,” is now controlling this nation’s destiny. Apparently Obama is somehow channeling his father. He mounted an odd argument about the US sponsored World Bank loaning money to Brazil for energy development as proof. He assumed Obama controlled those funds and concluded that the president simply should have used that money for off-shore drilling in the United States. It wrapped simplicity within simplicity and misunderstanding within misunderstanding. The World Bank is not a agency of the US government and it could not invest here at our present level of development.
All the complaints about how Obama handled the Benghazi attack have dwindled down to questions about whether the original talking points about what happened were changed for political reasons. The press has shown no interest in how Darrell Issa and other extremists, in league with FOX News, have manufactured all sorts of information about what actually happened. All of this is based on the master paradigm that Obama as ULTIMATE OTHER is capable of all kinds of trechery. Were he, white, thesese claims would have bad little importance.
The re-election of Obama in 2012 was due in substantial measure to stgrong African American and Hispanic support for him. After the election, there was much talk about the need to tone down GOP rhetoric against these two groups. There was no talk within the party of ending efforts to suppress African-American voting, and the court rulings tht are coming out on this matter will probably permit these undemocratic practices, provided they are not too blatant.
The GOP may reach out to Hispanic voters by going along with comprehensive immigration reform, provided it includes a thirteen year long, painful path to citizenship. Perhaps some Hispanics will take that as a sign of good intentions and friendship, but others might recall the blatant pre-2013 xenophobia of the GOP. Anti-Hispanic xenophobia was illustrated by the statements of former Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado. Who can forget when he said that Sonia Sottomayer was a member of the “Latino KKK” or when he said that Barack Obama was a greater threat than Al Qaeda? He has urged Obama to return to his Kenyan “homeland.” Then there were the times he complained that Miami was becoming a “Third World Country” and accused the pope of helping illegal immigrants get into the US to increase the number of Catholics. His suggestion that the U.S. bomb Mecca almost takes the cake, only to be exceeded by when he had an aide give a “Nigger” a karate chop.
Tancredo was the hero of the Tea Baggers, but he is now disdained because many fear that his rhetoric will drive Hispanics into the Democratic Party. Dick Armey, major Tea Bagger spokesmen, took Tancredo to task for his “mean spirited” attitude on immigration. Tancrado is also in disfavor because he is mounting an independent candidacy for governor of Colorado, which will hurt the Republican nominee who was essentially a member of the party establishment that Baggers claim to dislike. In 2011, Republican states continued to pass draconian laws against illegal immigrants, but Republicans and Hispanics have toned down their anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The Hispanic vote was very important in electing re-electing Barack Obama, but Republicans have reason to hope they can capture something better than 30% of it if they hold down the inflammatory rhetoric. There is a possibility that Senator Marco Rubio, the charismatic Cuban and evangelical senator from Florida, could end up as the vice presidential nominee or even presidential nominee in 2016 as a means of dampening Hispanic hostility to the Republicans.
Hispanics cannot be blamed for supporting Rubio in 2016 and forgetting the Republican Party's deplorable record of xenophobia. After all, a majority of white males have forgotten who has destroyed their unions, redistributed income upward, exported good jobs, and made it possible for corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid taxation by placing funds in tax havens. Just as workers have been seduced by right-wing populism and political fundamemtalism, it is possible that some Hispanics will be seduced by the same foolishness. After all, there are blacks like Herman Cain who despise their own people.