Tea Party rhetoric uses the language of civil rights to manipulate America’s white working class
- Patricia Williams
- The Observer, Sunday 19 September 2010
This November, the United States will hold elections for 37 crucial seats in the Senate. At present, Democrats hold 57 out of 100. It’s a tenuous balance: if the Senate ends up with a Republican majority, President Obama’s ability to advance any part of his policy initiatives will be in grave doubt. As a result, this is already shaping up to be one of the meanest campaign seasons in history.
Enter Glenn Beck, a recovered alcoholic and cocaine addict, darling of the Tea Party movement, a loose association of arch-libertarians, social conservatives and those who are diffusely angry at “liberal elites”. Having hovered at the edge of rightwing shock jock media for years, Beck burst onto the national scene only recently, thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Roger Ailes, former Republican party adviser to Presidents Reagan and George HW Bush, and current head of Fox News.
Beck’s poisonous power to manipulate the sense of disenfranchisement felt by white middle- and working-class citizens is serious business. He scares me, he scares Democrats, and he even scares many traditional Republicans who feel he panders to extremists. Listening to Beck is not unlike attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The world is broken down into simple ideals, laddered steps toward enumerated goals, reiterated creeds of belief and renunciation. As in AA, God is the only authority; admission of an engulfing corruption is the necessary starting point; and “restoration” of sanity is the goal.
Beck’s expressed agenda involves rescuing America from what he depicts as its current state of depravity. While Beck frequently claims that he is “not political” – “I’m an evangelist for America” – his diatribes draw relentless divisions among We, You, Them and Those. “We” are “patriots”. “They” are “traitors”, “progressives”, “socialists” and “Nazis”. Beck is a masterful narrator of “reverse” race and class grievance. Despite all data to the contrary, he asserts that it is whites who collectively suffer at the hands of black racists – Obama and his seven circles of “radical” “comrades” being the prime and reiterated example. “We” will “reclaim the civil rights movement” in the name of individual rights and freedoms, says Beck. “We will take that movement because we were the ones who did it in the first place.” Continue reading