Tea Parties

February 16, 2010

The Boston Tea Party was staged in December 1773, nearly nine years after the British Parliament passed the hated Stamp Act, 45 months after the Boston Massacre and just 16 months before the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolution.  The slippery slope to violent revolution had progressed far by the time of the Boston Tea Party, and its planners were not predisposed to accommodative compromise.  They were already mad as hell and not going to take it much longer.  The time for peaceful solutions had passed.  The time for vandalism had arrived.  The Tea Party name commandeered by America’s news political movement is a loaded term and says a lot about the passion, frustration, and raw fear of its members.

Revolutions evolve unpredictably and often in anarchistic directions.  Commonly, they begin with a call to overturn previous tyranny.  That’s how the Declaration of Independence described Britain’s King George.  France’s Ancien Regime produced many injustices for ordinary folk.  So did Czarist Russia, pre-Communist China, and Iran under the Shah.  Revolutions happen with good reason, but they then turn bloody and lose sight of their initial idealism.  The oppressed rise up, justifying all means that promote the goal of political change, and in this Darwinian struggle, the most extremist rebels often control events.  An irony is that the attempt to end tyranny inadvertently perpetuates tyranny, and often what emerges is even more ruthless than the conditions that were replaced.  Mobs play significant roles in revolutions and are capable of awful atrocities, in which people do things they would never consider as individuals.

Until they secure the strings of power, revolutionaries crave anarchy.   Anarchists distrust government and favor political assassination as an effective weapon of change.  William McKinley, America’s 26th President, was assassinated by an anarchist.  So was Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, whose murder set in train the events that led to World War I a few weeks later.

The United States confronts a perfect storm for revolution.  The world economy has gone through a series of debt crises, climaxing in the Great Recession.  Unemployment is likely to remain near 10%.  Countries in Latin America and Asia seem to be stealing U.S. jobs.  The nation is engaged in war against a foe, Islamic terrorism, that appears to be ubiquitous.  Fighting this enemy erodes the very freedoms that made America unique and concentrates power in the hands of the Federal government.  But the U.S. government seems hopelessly polarized and broken, incapable of devising and executing a plan to resolve anything.  People want to know how deficit spending will be reduced, whether the Fed will ever normalize monetary policy, why Osama Bin Laden hasn’t been caught, and why ordinary working folk are having their homes foreclosed while financial institutions, whose excessive risk-taking promoted the world financial crisis, were bailed out with taxpayer money.

We live in an era of distrust, light years beyond what existed after President Kennedy was shot.  Pop culture like the X-Files hardwires us to doubt everybody and everyone.  Priests, politicians, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and bureaucrats have betrayed trust in high profile cases, and our evening news dwells on the negative because that’s what sells.  Dangers are not restricted to things that are readily observed.  If my grade school teacher disbelieved the existence of Sputnik, the first space satellite, because he couldn’t see it, is it really such a stretch for many people to think that global warming is a concocted lie?   And in the middle of all this angst, an African-American became president of the United States.  Racism was America’s original sin and the underlying strain behind its most divisive war, so while many people rejoiced at the maturity signified by the election of President Obama, his election turned the sense of security among other people on its head.  Fear was then amplified by the very activist agenda of the new administration.

Recruits into the Tea Party movement are in the fight of their lives, a struggle that invokes both fear and the exhilaration of being part of a cause they see as far greater than their individual lives.  For religious reasons, like the start of the third millennium, some people may sense an added urgency in these times.  The rallying cry at this stage, reducing the size of government, will be too hard to measure to render a sense of victory in a timely enough manner to please people in the movement.  So concrete goals will be sought, like getting its people into elected office and pushing a radical agenda.  But ultimately, how does one know when government has been cut enough, if less is always preferable?  It seems like a recipe for never finding real satisfaction.  Unless the economy turns much better — unlike what happened in Japan — it seems like a recipe for dissatisfaction and increasing recourse to violent revolution.

The debt problems of Greece, Spain, and other peripherals have exposed structural shortcomings in the whole concept of a commonly shared European currency and have weakened the euro and unsettled fixed income markets in the weak-link members of the bloc. America’s Tea Party movement is symptomatic of equally formidable challenges faced by the United States and may foreshadow a period of political strife that could make present relations between the major political parties look tame. 

Copyright Larry Greenberg 2010.  All rights reserved.  No secondary distribution without express permission.



One Response to “Tea Parties”

  1. Jimbo says:

    I assume since we live in a global village now, that the crisis with the PIIGS is going to halp that slippery slope in America also. The European Union has in its charter not to provide bailouts, but I assume the pressure of folks rioting will have a large effect. Also, isn’t the money coming to the PIIGS anyway vis bank loans? European Union supports the banks and the banks job is to lend money ( in this case to the PIIGS) hmmmm…