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Sunday, October 24, 2010

And Now I Take on the Tea Party

"...and I want you all to remember--that you must not dream yourself back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one."
-Kim Malthe-Bruun, Danish Resistance leader against the Nazis, in a letter written to his parents the night before his execution.

I have mostly kept silent on the Tea Party. I was hoping we could ignore them and they would go away. But the recent rash of elections in the past year (starting with Scott Brown's in my current home state of Massachusetts) shows that this is not a mere marginal group that will exhaust itself any time soon. The media and public have done a good job of propping up and inflating the movement and it has grown into its own and gained steam. And now I find myself increasingly disturbed with the rhetoric coming from the Right, and the swelling of prejudice among the Tea Partiers.

The quote above is from a man who was executed for smuggling Jews across the sea to Sweden (which remained immune to the expansion of German imperialism during the second World War) during the occupation in Denmark.

We all learn in school that the Holocaust was horrible. But I think we forget how it began. So I want to remind any readers that happen across this page that have either forgotten their history or never learned.

Due to their loss in the first world war, Germany was experiencing a lot of financial hardship. The public were frustrated with their nation's sliding on the totem pole of world power and their own struggles to make ends meet. Frustration gave rise to a need for an outlet, a scapegoat.

When Hitler rose to power, he tapped into that frustration and channeled it toward an easy scapegoat: the Jews. Many Jewish people were shopkeepers and business people, and didn't seem quite as scathed by the economic situation as their non-Jewish German counterparts. And so, the anti-Semitic sentiment rose. It started at first with milder cues, a general debunking to second class citizenship. It started with just some words, a branding. But despite the mantra of sticks and stones, these words eventually evolved into the worst violence of our modern history. The scapegoating also expanded to include homosexuals, the handicapped or disabled and Catholics, among others.

But we shouldn't forget how it started. As with almost all things, it started with something small. The seeds of frustration and prejudice, which bloomed into full blown fear and hatred that then begot genocide.

Now, if we fast forward ahead, I see the same seeds being planted or organically taking root in the minds of many Americans. We have here in the U.S. a failed economy and a shrinking (or I should say, a disappearing) middle-class. People see manufacturing jobs shipped overseas, and they are struggling. So it seems it's time again for some scapegoats.

I have read and listened a lot on the radio to the Tea Party rhetoric. I've seen pictures of a lot of the signs being waved at their rallies. And though I am sure there really are some salt of the Earth type of people who are just exasperated at the economy and government spending, in the end, the loudest and most virulent voices in the movement confirm my suspicions and fears. At its core, the Tea Party is a movement of collective xenophobia and prejudice of the dreaded "other."

The Tea Party is a backlash against a president who is dark-skinned and has a funny name, who was born out of wedlock and raised by a single mother for a time, and then--gasp!--spent a part of his childhood overseas mingling with other children (who also happened to have brown skin). It probably doesn't help that his wife is a successful and brilliant lawyer who has made more money than him.

I am trying not to simplify, but encompassed in the Tea Party movement--a movement of which the demographic is notably (highly) disproportionately skewed toward white and middle-aged individuals--is the faction known as the birther movement. Though not always outwardly embraced, the tolerance of this faction within the movement by the higher ups in the Tea Party confirms its root sentiment of prejudice.

For the record, I will say I am not a hardcore Democrat or Obama apologist/fan. In states I've resided where I am allowed to be registered as an Independent and still partake in primaries, I have been. In more local elections, I have voted for third parties. In the larger elections, I've tended to vote Democrat by default--not so much proudly, but because I feel like they are slightly less indebted to large corporations and are generally more socially and racially tolerant, as well as more dedicated to environmental protection. If you look through the roll call of Congress, the Democratic party has more women and minorities among their representatives. The idealogy of racial and gender inclusion that is more inherent to the Democratic party resounds with me.

In the 2008 election, I voted for Obama. I had reservations about him based on his voting records. My feelings since the election can most accurately be described as ambivalent. I think he's done some great things that I am proud of, but I also am vastly disappointed in some of his choices and in places where he has more or less (whether formally or not) continued on with Bush era policies.

But getting back to the Tea Party: I just don't buy their bullshit about their true concern being government takeover and spending.

Because is that really is their angle, then where were they when we spent a half-trillion dollars and sent several thousand young men and women to their deaths over in Iraq based on an utter lie? When we were wiretapped and our credit card and library records scoured under (and even outside of the legal limits authorized by) the Patriot Act? When our rights under freedom of speech and press became much more limited than any time in recent history? When the Bush Administration loosened trade regulations and offered tax cuts for millionares and corporations that are largely responsible for creating the huge debt and deficit that contributed to our economic collapse? And have we forgotten that it was indeed the Bush Administration that began the bank bailouts? Do these things not reek of wasteful spending and of a federal government overstepping it boundaries and taking over?

Of course they do, but Bush didn't fit the profile for an easy scapegoat because he is a white Christian male of an affluent background and with a fairly passive homemaker of a wife.

Let's get down to brass tacks. The Tea Partiers, in their bones, are afraid of becoming a minority demographic in this country. They are afraid of what is different and they are afraid of change, completely regardless of whether that "change" will save more lives, or the economy, or create a better health or educational system for the greater good of their nation. They have latched onto demagogues to scapegoat easy targets and divert our attention from the truth, and have tapped into our pathetically transparent fears.

And now, we have our scapegoats: immigrants, Muslims, and homosexuals.

We need to start speaking the truth and that is this: many of the jobs that formed the backbone of the middle-class are gone. They are gone not because of immigrants and Muslims, but because our government and corporations created an incestuous affair with each other and now the government has offered to look the other way as corporations looked for cheap and even sweatshop labor elsewhere. Both parties have been funded by the industry and have had their votes bought (though I will say the Republicans on the whole are more susceptible to this). Our economy will continue to remain in a rut as long as we rely on a system that has been tinkered with to concentrate and maintain wealth at the top 2-5% of the population. To continue concentrating wealth means we need to continue taking it from the bottom 95%, and so the rest of us will continue to suffer.

Until we are bold enough to adjust our tax code to a fair prorportion where corporations and wealthy individuals foot a larger share of the bill needed to support our national budget, we will continue to flounder.

In the meantime, the politicians know this, and so they have diverted our attention elsewhere. It's hard for our minds to grasp economics and the larger issue of the caste system, but so much easier to blame a party because their skin color, or gods, or accent, is different from ours.

I work as part-time as an educator. The other day, an 11 year-old student of mine told me she is a Muslim. Or rather, she confessed she was, while adding sheepishly, and APOLOGETICALLY, that she doesn't like to mention it as she knows people "don't like" that and could "hate" her for it.

Shame on you Tea Partiers, for making a young girl feel like she needs to keep her religion and ethnicity a secret for fear of becoming a victim of hatred and persecution in the country she and her parents were born in. This country was founded on the principals of religious and cultural freedom and tolerance.

Like Mr. Malthe-Brunn, our Founding Fathers aimed to create an ideal of human decency, that we should working to advance instead of systematically destroy. It is a distraction from the real problems we need to face.


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