Steve Nelson, an educator from New York, succinctly explains the attitude of the current Republican Party—in all its separatist factions—which stems from a deep resentment of losing their grip on power and privilege. His post, titled White Men Resent Loss of Privileged Status, points to the trend of the elite circle getting smaller, causing those same elites to double down on protecting their resources and clout.
This contraction and consolidation of the oligarchy, as they form rank around ever-dwindling resources—either real or perceived—is of course completely predictable. While running the risk of saying “I told you so” with any amount of unintended petulance, I’ll point to Bob Jensen’s “Our Age of Anxiety” talk at Book People last April. Jensen thinks that current social justice activists and organizers cannot solely rely on the model of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s, mostly because at that time there was the belief, held by even the lower class, in an ever-growing pie. In the ’60s, endless prosperity was taken for granted; what current politician would promise landing someone on the moon, let alone on Mars, by the end of this decade?
With such endless growth taken as the default, those in power were more than happy to share some scraps in order to quell dissent, especially when that dissent was designed to disrupt business.
However, while we’ve seen similar tactics work more recently, as in the case of major corporations leaving ALEC after public pressure, because such protest “distracted from their original business purpose,” the now ever-shrinking pie will mean that the super-elite will be more resolute, more stingy, and more desperate to cling to their holdings. Thus, more and more layers of society will be ostracized from control over resources. Groups who used to be in the in-crowd are now suddenly (from their perspective, at least) on the outside looking in.
The House Republicans, for example, are one of the newest groups to taste the bitter sting of exclusion. As in the usual scenario, they direct their anger not at the upper stratum, the super rich, but at all lower strata and any program (grassroots or governmental) that aims to give members of the lower class any kind of economic autonomy. Publicly, they conflate these strata into a single, but many-tentacled monster, consisting of minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, atheists, and women: the “other,” the “un-American.”
And hence we see, as in the case of ALEC’s legislation*, an attempt (that will ultimately be futile, if history is any indication) to pass on exclusion down the hierarchy and salvage what they perceive to be hard-gotten gains from a more prosperous, and much nostalgic, past: in other words, an attempt to do no less than freeze time itself. The resulting idealizing of the “golden age” of White privilege results in the emergence of a new cult, of which the Tea Party is just one segment. The real foot soldiers of the new cult are not even politicians generally, but rather are the average people described in the aforementioned post. As Nelson writes:
Fertilized by non-stop propaganda from organizations such as Heritage Action and the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and FreedomWorks, many Americans feel deeply resentful of our increasingly diverse and complex society. They want life back the way it used to be, or as they thought it used to be.
The trouble is, the way it used to be is a very bad place to be for the overwhelming majority of society.
* As Ari Berman of The Nation writes about the new ALEC-drafted voter ID laws in Arizona and Kansas:
Proof-of-citizenship laws and the new two-tiered voting scheme are the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has done more than just about anyone to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud. As the author of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law and Mitt Romney’s nonsensical “self deportation” immigration plan, he’s fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. Kobach helped the American Legislative Exchange Council draft model legislation for proof of citizenship laws based on Arizona’s bill, which were adopted in three states—Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee—following the 2010 election.