Brexit represents a growing trend in worldwide populist movements that threaten to undermine democracy, both in Europe and in the U.S.
In the U.K., a small, wealthy, white, rightwing upperclass has deliberately stoked its country's anti-immigrant xenophobia into a belligerent nationalism that now threatens its very existence. The usual conditions of growing inequality, rising poverty, and poor economic opportunity allow such demagogues to manipulate the masses to further their own financial and political agenda.
What's dangerous is that this race-baited anger has been fueled here at home by Donald Trump, known to many Europeans as America's Hitler. The exploited anti-immigration paranoia in the U.K. parallels directly to the flames Trump has been fanning since he began his presidential bid.
Ian Haney Lopez, constitutional law scholar specializing in the evolution of racism, has penned an eye-opening account in his book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. He reveals that since the civil rights movement, racism didn't vanish; it simply went underground, and surfaced through coded language and political policy, where racial appeals carefully manipulate hostility toward nonwhites by repeated blasts about criminals and welfare cheats, illegal aliens and sharia law.
Sound familiar? It should. It's exactly what the GOP and rightwing media have been doing the entire Obama administration right here in America.
Donald Trump has just removed the veil of the Tea Party.
Writes Lopez, “Inextricably combining conservatism and racism, the [modern day] Tea Party was almost wholly a creature of right-wing dog whistle politics...the movement reflected the confluence of four forces:
- First, the anger and fear of everyday white folks – persons whose political conservatism was directly molded by racially infected fears of a liberal government run by a black president.
- Second, opportunistic Republicans seeking a new label for a damaged brand.
- Third, rightwing billionaires like the Koch brothers, with their well-funded propaganda machines.
- Finally, Fox News and the right-wing media machine which promoted the movement and also helped racially agitate and misinform its soldiers.”
How do we know the Tea Party is coded with racial hostility?
Because their rationalizations are only Obama-related.
- Tea Partiers despise Obamacare, but when it was called Romneycare and enacted by Massachusetts in 2006, it garnered no such animosity.
- Tea Partiers blame Obama for the $80 billion automobile bailout, even though George W. Bush started the bailout before he left office with $17.4 billion. It was also President Bush who signed a $700 billion bailout to the financial industry during the 2008 financial crisis, but the uproar wasn't manufactured until Obama took office in 2009, even though he reduced the bailout amount to $475 billion. Furthermore, there was no uproar when Reagan bailed out Wall Street in the 1980s.
- Under the Obama administration, Tea Partiers suddenly decided it was time to protest America's growing debt crisis, particularly the $6.494 trillion (a 70% increase) in national debt. They had no such problem with George W. Bush's increase of $5.849 trillion (a 101% increase), or the Iraq War bill of $1.7 trillion (fought on credit), or Ronald Reagan's $1.9 trillion (a staggering 190% increase). By comparison, Clinton increased the debt by only $1.396 trillion (a 32% increase), and George H.W. Bush increased by $1.55 trillion (a 54% increase).
- Despite the Obama's Administration having only 0 investigations, indictments, or convictions for criminal activity during his first term, the Tea Party wanted to take their country back from a dysfunctional government. By comparison, Ronald Reagan's administration had more than 130 members investigated, indicted, or convicted for criminal activity, an historical record surpassing Nixon, Harding, and Grant’s administrations. The George W. Bush administration had over 40.
That's Reagan: 130+
Obama: 1 (Clinton/Benghazi - and she was cleared)
When angry old white men whine that they wanted their country back, the only change to the American way of life has been a black man entering the White House. The Great Recession had descended months prior, but it was only upon the presidential handoff that resentment reached a crescendo - for policy that a Republican President had set.
Rolling Stone Journalist Matt Taibbi has written how Tea Party Supporters “are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views, despite the fact they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill 'cracker babies,' support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over…Barack Obama’s birth certificate.”
Lopez explains, "Racial demagoguery convinces many whites to think about government help in terms of race, and then to reject liberalism and the lessons of the New Deal in favor of the nostrums promoted by corporate titans and loaded insiders."
Unfortunately, this illegitimate rhetoric has grown stronger over the last 30 years, culminating in the return of the modern-day Tea Party, which is to the right of George W. Bush, who was to the right of Reagan, who was to the right of Nixon – creating a far right political skewering of the current Republican party, one that has dangerous implications for race relations.
More ironic is how these 21st century appropriators have entirely missed the impetus of the original tea party.
The original Boston Tea party was corporate vandalism because the British government had given a huge tax break to the East India trading company.
As Thom Hartmann explains in The Crash of 2016, “The Boston tea party was a revolt against the economic royalists, who had seized the British government and passed the world’s largest corporate tax break at the time, devastating colonial tea sellers. The purpose of the Tea Act was to increase the profitability of the East India Company to its stockholders, which included the king, and to help the company drive its colonial small business competitors out of business. Because the company temporarily no longer had to pay high taxes to England, and held a monopoly on the tea it sold in American colonies, it was able to lower its tea prices to undercut those of the local importers, and the mom and pop tea houses in every town in America.”
In response, a group of Bostonians boarded the tea ships and threw millions of dollars worth of tea into the harbor. War soon followed.
This is not much different from today. Except today’s tea party has taken its lesson from the Reaganization of the U.S. The very companies abusing the tax credits and colluding with government officials are the very companies funding the modern day tea party movement.
Today's self-proclaimed tea-party soldiers are more like a gaggle of teabaggers, defined by Urban Dictionary as those who are unaware they have said or done something foolish, childlike, noobish, or lame. These teabaggers are manipulated into ball sucking without even knowing it.
In actuality, the real Boston tea party zeitgeist was seen more in Occupy Wall Street than any corporate-funded, rightwing exploitation of the working poor’s discontent, whose anger is wrongly attributed to the very programs designed to help the them.
And this media-driven tea party didn’t emerge in 2008 by happenstance. The Koch Brothers had been orchestrating such a rally for years. In 2002, David Koch’s CSE even purchased a tea party domain name. There was just no need to utilize it until a Democrat took the White House.
The lesson here is to beware of individuals and corporations that “use their power and influence to promote only their own interest, with no regard for the damage they do to the rest of us,” warns Lopez.
Last fall, when the hacktivist group Anonymous threatened to reveal the identities of hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members, media interest centered around which notable politicians could be tied to the news. However, once Anonymous posted the list, many of the names were no secret, their FaceBook profiles boldly displaying their allegiance.
This is as unsettling as it is unabashedly brazen.
Not only has the Klan seen a resurgence in numbers since 2008, but they now feel that the U.S. political discussion is moving closer to their anti-immigration, nationalist platform.
Less than a century ago, the KKK was rendered impotent by simply revealing their members publicly. Now, they broadcast their allegiance on social media, and no one bats an eye. What was once viewed as a shameful association in the shadows of the public sphere has now become an empowering resurgence in the full light of day.
And that should scare all of us.
As Lopez warns, “Ameliorating racial inequality is a precondition to ending racial politics. So long as society remains riven by racial divisions, racial demagoguery will remain a threat to the middle class.”