A portrait of America under Tea Party rule runs the risk of reading like dystopian science fiction. So be it. We should take the risk because a future Tea Party America would likely be such a dystopia, a place even tea partiers might fear to tread if they were given a glance of the future they are so committed to creating.
We haven't paid nearly enough attention to what America would look like if the loosely defined Tea Party had its way and succeeded, say, in capturing Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. What would Tea Party America look like? Looking only at their current policy goals and at a 2011 Pew Research poll on the Tea Party, the picture is not a pretty one.
As Pew defines them, there is a strong connection between the Tea Party and Christian fundamentalism. There are Tea Partiers whose interests are economic and not religious. But the movement is deeply influenced by the social agenda of the Religious Right.
In the Tea Party future, abortion is certainly criminalized. Judging by recent legislative initiatives, access to birth control will be limited. As attacks on Planned Parenthood and the women's health initiatives of the Affordable Care Act make clear, women will certainly suffer more, their economic and political status reduced to baby carrying and obedience to their male betters.
According to Pew, the Tea Party holds corporations in high regard. Corporate personhood and deregulation of just about everything are on their agenda. Their support for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest individuals, could lead to a new feudalism. The citizenry would be reduced to peasantry, paying rents and taxes to capitalist lords and required tithes to government-established religious organizations.
Some consequences of Tea Party activism are already with us. Budget cuts caused by their anti-tax sentiment are forcing the layoffs of thousands of police officers throughout the country. At the same time, emotional attachment to a gun culture favors the arming of individuals. What's this look like? Wyatt Earp's worst nightmare. Everyone's given a gun when they enter the saloon and the police are nowhere to be found.
Also, Texas Tea Partiers have succeeded in writing a Republican Party platform that condemns the teaching of critical thinking skills. Budget cutbacks have public libraries closing faster than independent bookstores. Public education will be a thing of the past. Tax dollars will fund private schools that cater to the sectarian whims of those wealthy enough to build or attend a school. If we're going to arm everyone, don't education and thinking skills become more, not less important?
What of their strong preference for elimination of government regulations? Is there no longer a Food and Drug Administration? Are we to allow dangerous drilling and mining practices that can destroy the health of entire towns and cities? Air traffic safety? The transportation of hazardous materials? Have I mentioned the climate crisis?
Then there is their blind obedience to the government they claim to detest. Tea Party government will enforce strict laws on sex and marriage. Domestic surveillance, of citizens if not corporations, is required. Voter suppression laws make certain that the "wrong" people face new barriers to the ballot box. The Voting Rights Act will be overturned. Affirmative Action erased.
Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare? Benefits cut and programs privatized. Already strapped families will have to find ways of taking care of elderly parents and grandparents. New financial burdens will fall upon just about everyone, to say nothing of the physical and emotional costs of the aged population finding itself abandoned in a dog-eat-dog world.
I don't think there's much exaggeration in the above, although I don't think many are paying to attention to the overall picture. Do even Tea Party loyalists want to live in such a world, or is a lack of imagination blinding them to the consequences of their own policy goals?
The recent Texas Republican U.S. Senate primary victory of Ted Cruz over conservative Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst looked more like a riot than an election. The tea partiers seem to know what they are destroying, but not what they are creating. Voters wanted to punish someone, anyone. It was Dewhurst's misfortune to be standing in the shop window that got smashed.
Americans' natural optimism is always at war with a paranoid streak. Michelle Bachmann can stir up fears of an Islamic infiltration of government, but our optimism tells us that will go nowhere. "It can't happen here" is almost a national motto.
A good many novelists have travelled to this future before us. To name just a few, there's Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Phillip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, P.D. James' The Children of Men, Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America, and Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. Hillary Jordan's recent When She Woke is particularly chilling given the Right's assault on women's health care. In her novel, a Texas-based Christian fundamentalist outfit called The Trinity Party runs the country. Protagonist Hannah Payne, an analogue of Nathanial Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, is convicted of murder after terminating development of her pregnancy (the father a noted Church leader she refuses to identify). Hannah is sentenced to melachroming -- her skin is turned a uniform bright red -- a scarlet letter writ large.
I have tried to draw a picture of Tea Party America based upon their public pronouncements and a reputable poll of their beliefs. It might better serve us, however, to listen to our imaginative writers, who have been telling us for decades that democracy requires vigilance and commitment to its principles. We could find ourselves awake in one of those nightmares.
A scene from The Sound of Music comes to mind. Alert to the coming catastrophe, Max Detweiler warns, "Things will happen to people. Don't let them happen to you." Baroness Elsa Schroeder is shocked at Max's warning. "Max! Don't you ever say that again." We should all refuse Schroeder's command.
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