It looks like my claim that much of the Tea Party movement is a reaction to the decline of the American Empire and Dream is picking up support. Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star has said as much in a recent editorial. He claimed that
The core of the change of life America is undergoing is that it is ceasing to be an exceptional nation.It will remain for a long time more powerful and richer than anyone else, and continue to exert immense cultural appeal, for a long time.
But it’s in a phase of inescapable decline. This sense of contraction, of children’s lives no longer being better than those of the parents, was, surely, as much the cause of the anxiety and anger expressed in the mid-term elections as the specifics of unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and wage cutbacks.
The Tea Party understands their loss, the decline of the middle class, and the largely dim future we face but they get everything else wrong. They believe it was too much government and black and brown freeloaders who lived off that government that caused the disappearance of the American Dream. They refuse to blame those most responsible, the corporate elite and rich who have siphoned off wealth with the cooperation of government. They also blame their problems on educated elites who are often more liberal than the corporate elite as well as more sympathetic to those on the bottom. Perhaps it is as David Frum has claimed that “you might describe contemporary American politics as a class struggle between those with more education than money against those with more money than education?”
The problem is that the Tea Party movement will hurt themselves as well as the country with their total rejection of government programs and spending. But as Frum also observes, there are sound economic reasons and not just moral reasons for government safety net spending. In fact, the American “business cycles in the second half of the 20th century were so much less volatile than they were in the 19th century” precisely because of such spending. Some research even shows that government jobs and spending actually drop when taxes increase. The reason is that people generally want to keep government services but they don’t want to pay premium prices for them. So when taxes decrease, citizens see it as paying less for the same amount of services. They naturally then expand existing or create new government services since the price for them is now cheaper. The reverse is also true. Increasing taxes makes citizens worry about paying more for the same amount of services and, so, they consume less. Tea Party members themselves have been the direct beneficiaries of such policies.
Why don’t the Tea Partiers admit to the importance of government spending and services to their lives? Perhaps their anger just gets in the way of rational thought? They just hate everything they see around them. Some argue that Tea Party members are more concerned with preserving freedom than with their personal economic welfare. But it was such a farce to see Republican leaders announce their sanctimonious Pledge to America but not be able to explain why their plan to reduce the federal budget provides no plan to reduce earmarks or social security. Or, perhaps the Tea Party movement is just too afraid to go down that path? Admitting that would mean they would have to give up on their increasingly remote dream of joining those at the very top, even if only by the extraordinary luck promised by a lottery ticket. If they give up on that dream, they might just have to admit that they are in the same boat as all of those brown and black people they believe are too lazy, uncivilized, and eager to live off other people’s labor. A civilization’s decline does not come without psychological losses to accompany the economic and political ones.