Welcome to Glennbeckistan
Civil discourse in America is breaking down and I confess I contributed. Sadly, sometimes there is no polite way to confront rude and hyperbolic voices. Racism need not be tolerated, period. Homophobia, the same. Violence must be confronted. These are not mere partisan differences. They must be called out.
I wrote the essay, “Welcome to Glennbeckistan Where the Tea Party Rules and the Tea-hadi Roam,” in an afternoon. The Utah State Legislature had just finished its 2010 session. I was thinking about how glad I am that I no longer go “up on the Hill” to lobby for libraries or environmental health as I did for so many years, an experience I compare to being trapped in a phone booth with Elmer Fudd’s evil twin for two months. I jotted down a morning-after list of what the legislators did this year and ended up venting my bad feelings about that on paper.
I gave it to Tom Englehardt who pruned it well and put it out on his web site, Tomdispatch.com. From there it went to the usual – Huffingtonpost, Alternet, Truthout, Common Dreams… It was clear right away that I’d struck a nerve. It got a huge response and was e-mailed widely. That should have pleased me - all writers want a bigger audience - but it didn’t.
Here’s the thing. I have spent months working towards deeper insights on important topics and writing to convey how ecological principles matter. Read “Too Big to Fail” or “Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys” below, for examples. The response I got was positive and strong, but modestly so. So I kill just one afternoon transferring my bad attitude to paper and the response goes through the roof. What is the meaning of that? Is it that dissing and sarcasm pay? I hope not.
I got mostly positive feedback but when Beck fans responded through comments at web sites where it appeared and in letters to Tom, the vitriol was thick. Name-calling instead of reason is big these days. Rush and Beck and Hannity have become superstars by name-calling. My favorite response was “you think we’re dumb but you don’t know anything because you are a government sycophant dickwad.” I rest my case.
The question of the day is what does the Tea Party movement mean? Here’s my short answer. People are hurting and struggling. They are losing jobs, homes, and dreams. While they drown in debt, bankers and brokers are rescued. The rich still take their millions in bonuses. The economy is rigged. Distrust and fear reign. Anger, outrage, and resentment are understandable. Unfortunately, they can also be incoherent and that is the case today.
At this point, the tea party is mostly a noise. A tune may follow but I can’t hear it yet through the cacophony. My essay underlined the sour notes. Let’s hope we don’t take out our anger at bankers and brokers on our innocent fellow citizens or vulnerable scapegoats.
If you are not already a Democrat or an Obama fan, where do you go with your anger, fear, and hunger for an alternative to the dysfunctional and unfair system that is oppressing you? Not the Republican Party which is ideologically and programmatically bankrupt. Since Reagan in 1980 they have preached the virtues of an unfettered “free” market and railed at the sins of big government. That philosophy crashed along with the ponzi-economy in the fall of 2008. So what are their big ideas for rebuilding an economy that will rescue the millions of Americans who lost homes and jobs? More tax breaks for the rich? How about those risky new financial instruments that facilitated the bubble and collapse? Even less regulation? The Republicans have become a party of “no.” That’s not substantive enough for most folks.
A void will be filled – enter the Tea Party movement. Most tea-partiers hold both political parties responsible and loathe both. To the extent they identify with any party, it is the Republican party and the "movement" has been funded by billionaire right-wingers, the Koch brothers, and recruited from the Republican base. But there is also a strongly anti-incumbent current. Republicans who encourage them should be wary. In Utah, they are making grassroots challenges to well established incumbent Republicans, like Senator Bennett, who by national standards would be considered quite conservative. They are driving the party rightward. The 2010 legislative session I wrote about expresses that dynamic.
Here is a foreword about Utah politics that is important to know. Utah is peculiar. It was settled and developed by Mormons whose history is dramatic. The Mormons started in the east, thrived at Nauvoo in Illinois, but were eventually driven out. They were persecuted and their charismatic leader, Joseph Smith was assassinated. They arrived in Utah as political refugees with their backs against the wall of the Great Basin Desert. If that’s your history, you are good at circling the wagons but not so good at inviting dissent or entertaining diversity. With unity comes conformity and obedience. The result is a one-party political system where Republicans utterly dominate. All sorts of checks and balances, give and take, and feedback are missing. The political culture gets distorted by that.
Nevertheless, if you want to see where the Republican-Tea Party alliance could go, Utah is exhibit A.
This essay became a chapter in a book, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America (2010) edited by Don Hazen and Adele Stan and published by Alternet.