Trying To Understand The Tea Party


From ANDREW SULLIVAN
The Daily Dish

[T]hey’re the usual reactionary crowd that goes nuts whenever there’s a Democrat in the White House and they’re looking for something to be outraged about. And right-wing media and the Republican Party have decided (correctly, I think) that banging on about the deficit is a handy way to gin up opposition to pretty much everything Democrats want to do.

The previous tea party incarnations worked the same way, but their leaders chose topics suited to their time and circumstances. In the 30s it was opposition to the New Deal. For the Birchers it was communism. For the Clinton-haters it was the culture wars. Those were the most obvious and convenient stalking horses of their day for broad-spectrum outrage at Democrats, while today’s is the deficits/socialism message. There’s really nothing mysterious here. It’s just ordinary partisan politics.

So please please please: trying to figure out what’s behind the tea parties is fine. But psychoanalysis isn’t the right tool. History and politics are.

~

From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released into action, would be very far from conservative.

The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, “shows conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere. The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them from largely fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

John Yoo anyone? Dick Cheney? I can think of few examples of this more telling than the suspension of habeas corpus, the enactment of preventative war as policy and the institutionalization of torture as the celebration of American traditional values. So Hofstadter helps me understand how a movement based on inalienable individual freedom had nothing to say about the most authoritarian period in the American executive branch in their lifetimes. But the maintenance of shrill ideology against reality is still the most prevalent feature. Hofstadter noted some classic examples from a previous era that seem plucked from Fox News today:

The lady who, when general Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft had finally become official, stalked out of the Hilton Hotel declaiming “This means eight more years of socialism” was probably a fairly good representative of the pseudo-conservative mentality … [So also was] the general who told [the Freedom Congress] , demanding an Air Force capable of wiping out the Russian Air Force and industry in one sweep, but also a “material reduction in military expenditures …” the people who a few years ago believed simultaneously that we had no business fighting communism in Korea, but that the war should be immediately extended to an Asia-wide crusade against communism …

It all sounds weirdly familiar, doesn’t it? The cognitive dissonance and the obvious human misery behind it:

The pseudo-conservative believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded … he is the most bitter of all our citizens about our involvement in wars past but seems not the least concerned about avoiding the next one.

Brutally accurate, no? What you see is the predominance of acute alienation – the opposite of a natural conservative at peace with the world as it is – and the intensity of emotional rage it provokes. I would add one thing to this analysis. The Bush-Cheney presidency was, in some respects, the perfect pseudo-conservative administration. They waged war based on loathing of the experts (damned knowledgeable elites!); they slashed taxes and boosted spending for their constituencies, while pretending to be fiscally responsible; they tore up the most ancient taboos – against torture – with a bravado that will one day seem obscene; and they left the country in far worse shape than they found it.

Throughout all this, the Tea Partiers supported them. So how do they manage the cognitive dissonance that two failed wars, a financial collapse and a debt crisis have brought? How do they deal with the fact that their beloved president was manifestly the most incompetent and disastrous in modern times? They blame it on the next guy.

Yes, they are doing all they can to avoid facing the fact that they did all of this … to themselves. And sometimes, the truly, deeply humiliated can only carry on through blind rage.
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