I posted a meditation on the vexing problem of what can be done about the tens of millions of Americans on the right who are permanently alienated from the present direction of evolution of American society, and invited thoughtful comments. Don Schneier and Jerry Fresia responded. In this post, I will try to address the points they raise, which I found interesting and important.
Don Schneier, in the second of his two responses, asks us to cease construing the people I was talking about as located on one wing of the normal political spectrum, and see them instead as armed revolutionaries, at least potentially, who pose an entirely different sort of threat to society. I am not sure what to think of this assertion. Lord knows, the rhetoric of Secession and States' Rights and Second Amendment Solutions is violent enough, in a country awash with guns of all sorts, but despite the reports of small groups of people forming themselves into quasi-military posses and factions, I find it very difficult to see the Tea Partiers or the Evangelicals as engaging in armed insurrection. Nor is it, I think, especially significant that suicidal individuals like the disturbed young man at LAX yesterday read and reference the literature of revolution or resistance. Serious armed revolt in the United States, to pose a credible threat, would have to enlist the support of either local law enforcement officials or else elements of the military. The latter is clearly not going to happen, and the former, though it might occur in some form at a very local level, seems not at all likely in any significant manner. [Echoes here of that old Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster thriller, Seven Days in May.] And yet. And yet. I don't imagine the confident, sophisticated intellectuals of the Weimar Republic were too impressed with the ragtag rebels heeding the calls of Adolf Hitler.
Jerry Fresia invites us to compare the people I was talking about with the Occupy Movement, which, despite their very great differences, he thinks are both reacting to the fact that "America is fast becoming a place that is unrecognizably different from the country" where just about everyone expected "to inhabit as adults" [quoting in part from my post]. This is very suggestive. There are all manner of differences, of course, between the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement, most notably that the Tea Party movement seems to have been bankrolled and brought into being by rich right-wingers with a clearly defined political agenda. But I do not think we should make too much of that difference. Had the Tea Party movement not touched deep and powerful emotions already present in a very large number of people, no amount of dark money could have called it into existence or sustained it for more than a brief time.
The most interesting difference perhaps is that whereas the Tea Party Movement targets the federal government as the enemy, the Occupy Movement targets finance capital, and by extension capitalism tout court as the enemy. Needless to say, my heart flutters at the thought, but the Occupy Movement offered neither an analysis of capitalism [beyond the simple but enormously powerful contrast of the one percent with the ninety-nine percent] nor even a hint of a program for its transformation. As the significance and effects of the dramatic increase in income and wealth inequality sink in, there are, it seems to me, two possible responses by the Occupiers, if I may call them that. One is a quietist withdrawal from the public square in an effort merely to survive with low wage benefitless jobs. The other is some sort of organized mobilization of workers -- in unions, or if not, then in alternative action-oriented structures. Everything in America today militates against the latter, including the stratification of jobs and the class differences between the majority without higher education credentials and the minority who possess them and are encumbered with unmanageable debt. My blog post presupposed that demographic and cultural changes in America were driving the country irresistibly in a progressive direction, but Jerry Fresia recalls me to the gloomy truth that cultural advances -- in the acceptance of gay rights, women's rights, the integration of Hispanic Americans into the larger society -- may be accompanied by ever greater economic inequality.