The Postman -- an allegory for the Tea Party
Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:03 PM
Until now, I've resisted writing anything critical of the Tea Party Movement, because, after all, what hasn't already been written about its demographics(old, white, and racist) and its less than casual understanding of the Constitution, history, the Fab Four (Marxism, Fascism, Communism, and Socialism -- naturally, it would have been five, but Lenin is nobody without McCarthy), or, or, or, all right, just about anything?
And what is it with their English?
Granted, English notwithstanding, these are vastly complicated subjects, and it takes substantial personal effort, usually in the form of direct study, before one might hope to be merely conversant. However, if you desired to put your topical knowledge to good use, say as leverage in advancing arguments during a debate of ideas, I would suggest that even more intense study is warranted; unless, of course, you don't mind leaving others with the impression that you are a fool, or unless you actually are a fool.
In any event, it is this chronic and seemingly purposeful ignorance1 that I find so remarkable2. While the movement frequently celebrates this as some kind of middle-classed, middle-america, main street virtue, particularly through dubious attacks on intellectualism, they are also ignorant to its most obvious and deleterious consequence: the nature of their debate inevitably shrinks to tautological nonsense, as illustrated in this paraphrased conversation between a CNN reporter and a Teabagger:3
Teabagger: Obama is a fascist. Roesgen: Why? Teabagger: Because he is, he's a fascist. Roesgen: In what way? Teabagger: They are all pirates, the people in Washington. Roesgen: How? Teabagger: They are fascists.
Which brings me to the point of this entire article.
In my Sisyphusian pursuit of truly understanding the political and policy desires of Teabaggers, I frequently come across references to, quotations from, and bastardized versions of the famous poem "First they came...", generally attributed to Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
It doesn't take much cerebral power to grasp that this poem is an indictment of apathy and ambivalence which implicitly enabled the worst of the Nazi atrocities. Given the Tea Party Movement's obvious failure to understand the nature of Fascism, beyond the primitive "Fascism = Bad", it comes as no surprise they would form an attachment to prose that they illogically believe casts them in the warm and patriotic glow of a persecuted class. Nor should we be shocked at their unwitting alignment with intellectuals, the audience for which the above chastisement was intended.
I suppose one of the benefits of deliberate ignorance is that it places you beyond the reach of irony, satire, and sarcasm, and thus you become largely immune to the embarrassment that should accompany such glaring postural gaffes. Even so, I'm somewhat surprised at the role-shifting implied by their adoption of this particular sentiment.
Now I'll be the first to admit that Hollywood probably isn't the best source of relevant allegory, think Waterworld here, but it is occasionally a good source of inadvertently relevant, and pitch-perfect, allegory, to wit: The Postman4
In case you haven't seen this movie, I'll tell you that it depicts a dystopian America a few years after some form of populist uprising. The major antagonist of the film is the commander of group of populist soldiers, General Bethlehem, formerly a copy machine repairman and now a petty despot and megalomaniac. The uprising having succeeded, and with the movement no longer benefiting from an inimical federal government, Bethlehem's army exists now only to serve his ego. He imposes a tyrannical autocracy upon the innocent people within his territory, incorporating conscription, direct and brutal taxation, and, as a shout out to the Middle Ages, Droit de seigneur. Naturally, the impoverished are united by our hero and led in yet another popular uprising in which Bethlehem is defeated, and, it is implied, a new (old) America rises from the ashes.
So, what's the lesson here? Well, firstly, let's assuage those Teabaggers that are sitting in their home fortresses, anxiously waiting for They to come for them. I hate it break this to you tea loving folks, and I know you are unlikely to accept it, but you are the They in this scenario. You won't be come for, it will be you and your rag-tag band of radical ideologues that will do all the coming, if there is any to be done. And that is the role-shifting I mentioned earlier. I encourage you to watch the movie I've just recommended, just remember which side is which.
The sheer lunacy of believing that such poorly organized, and even more poorly reasoned, groups could foment a successful revolution can only be surpassed by a belief that they could avoid devolving into the eponymous society, or any of another recently depicted post-apocalyptic landscapes of human suffering. Or, forget depictions and look at Somalia, Afghanistan, or the huge swaths of Africa that are currently lawless or in various stages of revolution -- sorry, I mean liberation.
In my mind, the most telling and frightening characteristic of the Tea Party is its shameful advancement of the notion of real Americans. This should frighten just about any thinking person. Despite the Tea Party's efforts to label the current administration as Fascist, its dogma reeks of its very own Fascist underpinnings. The creation of an an identity collective, to which real or true people can belong, is a necessary first step in establishing a movement that might ultimately result in a Fascist state, even if by accident.
The odds of such an accident are increased when the movement's leaders begin to alter the insider's basic perceptions by dehumanizing those who lack the essential identity criteria. This is accomplished through incessant rhetorical attacks, often designed to hint at violence being a legitimate tool, and by constructing a compelling, if completely irrational, narrative that creates exaggerated grievances along with the concomitant transgressors. More simply, they create an entire class of sub-human bogeymen upon whose shoulders can be placed all of the blame for everything that denies the members their rightful whatever.
With enough time, enough fear, enough manipulation, enough apathy, and with a little chaos thrown in, from a natural disaster perhaps, and the results are all too predictable. Typical human resentment, when coupled with the implied superiority of "trueness" or "realness", will eventually induce the movement to attempt to rectify all of its perceived injustices.
1 I'm tempted to say it's childlike, yet it's far too dangerous to do so.
2 That ignorance fuels their passions illustrates just how combustible stupidity can be.