On April 15, protesters in Michigan railed against Gov. Gretchen Whitmers stay-at-home executive order. Spurred by right-wing media goliaths like Tucker Carlson and Rush Limbaugh, demonstrators took to the streets of Lansing, holding signs and waving flags. Some of the signs compared Gov. Whitmer to Adolf Hitler. Some protesters waved Confederate flags. Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted that Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is turning Michigan into a police state.
The Tea Party burst onto the national scene in February 2009 after the Obama administration announced the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan, which refinanced mortgages while the country was in the throes of the Great Recession. The first national Tea Party protest was on Feb. 27, 2009, but the seeds of the movement were sown before that day.
Modern right-wing populism was born in a time similar to this one, during a recession with a big-government response. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson proposed what would become the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 on September 20 of that year, and while the bailouts were necessary to save the global economy, they were unpopular. Grassroots organizations on both the left and right mobilized against the Acts Troubled Asset Relief Program. Protesters on the left argued against what they perceived to be a policy package that would only help Wall Street, not ordinary Americans, in step with the lefts positions on Wall Street for decades. Opposition to TARP on the right came from a new movement.
When the Bush administration unveiled its bailout plan, fiscal libertarians who would become the Tea Party felt that TARP was the government picking winners and losers in the economy. Staunch advocates against federal intervention, they immediately opposed the plan, despite evidence that without it, Americans would soon be unable to get money from ATMs.
Libertarian conservatives were not unreasonable in their growing discontent with President George W. Bush. The compassionate conservatism he campaigned on manifested in big-government policy. It makes sense that some Republicans felt like their leader had abandoned them with Medicare Part D. Civil libertarians in the party werent happy with the Patriot Act either, as they felt it represented big government violating citizens privacy. The Bush administration also found resistance to its stance on immigration; a nascent paleoconservative wing of the party defeated Bushs immigration reform plan because of the path to citizenship it sought to provide to illegal immigrants.
Conservatives werent stupid to think the Tea Party was going to right the ship. Tea Party candidates won handily in the 2010 midterms, but their time in Washington was indicative of a greater issue in the movement.
Tea Party protesters held signs and waved flags. A lot of the signs compared Obama to Hitler. Occasionally, protestors had Confederate flags. Tea Party Republicans complained that Obama was turning this country into a police state, taking their guns and taxing the bejesus out of them.
Conservative intelligentsia largely saw the Tea Party as a vehicle for a return to Reagan-era conservatism. Tea Party candidates evoked the Gippers memory in their speeches and policies. In fact, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who rode the Tea Party wave into office in 2010, was hailed as the next Reagan before his 2016 presidential campaign.
But it was all a lie.
If Tea Party voters actually cared about limited government and the separation of powers, they couldnt possibly be Trump supporters.
The thing is, it was never about principles.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian hardliner, said to the Washington Examiner of his voters:
All this time, I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they werent voting for libertarian ideasthey were voting for the craziest son of a b- in the race.
Massie is spot-on here. The vast majority of Tea Party voters and politicians still in office have pledged fealty to Donald Total Authority Trump, certainly not deigning to investigate his flagrant corruption, their one-time raison dtre. The anti-Whitmer protest, and similar demonstrations across the country, are nothing more than a redux of the Tea Partys beginnings this time without any pretense of support for the free market and limited government.
Lets not get caught up in the same narrative. It was all about tearing down the establishment. Real Americans versus the latte-sipping elites. Thats what it is now, too. Trump, in his unwillingness to listen to medical and epidemiological experts, is a man of the people. Hes draining the swamp when he reassigns career public servants Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from the National Security Council to lower posts after Vindman testifies against him in his impeachment hearings.
Bulwark founder and editor-at-large, Charlie Sykes, wrote Thursday that on the populist right, there is no tension between outrage over the Nanny State and slavish devotion to the Orange God King. Although as a matter of political philosophy or logic you would think those two things would be incompatible, as a matter of psychology theyre not.
Hes absolutely right on that point. Its a psychology of war, one that the Tea Party instilled in the partys identity, and that persists today. John McCain was a squishy RINO in 2008 to the conservative wing of the party, so he picked Sarah Palin, who ended up being maybe the highest-profile Tea Party leader. Mitt Romney wasnt conservative enough, and he picked Paul Ryan, who, while as conservative as Tea Party politicians, was seen as too much of a Washington policy wonk.
The right wing of the Republican Party wanted someone to take up the cause. Not of conservatism, but of populism. Donald Trump is the strongman who can give power back to the people the president who will tweet all-caps calls to LIBERATE three states, which might have been incitement.
Its not as if there arent valid reasons for all kinds of Americans to be distrustful of government and our countrys institutions. If the 21st century can be described in one word, that word would be disillusionment. But Trumps goal, and greatest strength, is self-preservation. Hell do whatever he and his team think necessary for him to stay in power.
What happens next?
Trump will likely exploit growing populist indignation, pitting Americans against one another even more than he did in 2016. Hell double down on immigration, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to tighten border security. Hell claim countless powers he doesnt have, all while calling Biden a big-government socialist. His supporters wont call him out on his hypocrisy, because to them, the president isnt the government. Hes a fighter, and the government is the deep state that he has to beat.
My hope is that real conservatives dont fall prey to this faux-libertarian movement the way the right did a decade ago. Considering the responses to Trumps claim that when somebodys the president of the United States, the authority is total and Trumps history of not typically following through on his loudest pronouncements, I doubt anything shockingly more apocalyptic than what were currently experiencing comes to pass. Im sure there will be protests, more hand-wringing from elected Republicans when Trump says something particularly egregious about liberating states and Democrats taking guns, but not much more.
Polling data overwhelmingly shows that Americans support social isolation measures and stay-at-home orders. The divide between those who do and dont is almost entirely partisan. Americans are growing increasingly frustrated with the federal response to the pandemic, and theyre not the ones out in the streets protesting. The new silent majority is the moderate suburban voter, and their vote is right there for Joe Biden to pick up.
If he does, and is elected president of the United States, this new Tea Party wont pick up much political momentum, but itll exist as long as we as a country feel the effects of coronavirus. And theres no telling how long the GOPs populist turn will last, but its clear that its never been about conservative principles.
Zach Kessel is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at email@example.com. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.
See more here:
- Libertarian Free Will and the Kalam, Revisited | Jonathan MS Pearce - Patheos - August 17th, 2020
- Floating Cities and Sea-Level Rise - an unsinkable idea - Anthropoce - August 17th, 2020
- When Joe Biden Tried To Paint Clarence Thomas as a Crazy Libertarian - Reason - July 31st, 2020
- Libertarian Assembly candidate calls for line item veto to rein in spending, elimination of property taxes and more to get rid of 'tyranny' and bloat... - July 31st, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | The last days of the tech emperors? - Minneapolis Star Tribune - July 31st, 2020
- Buchanan and Anarchism | Mises Wire - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - July 31st, 2020
- Trump Wanted To 'Throw Massie Out of Republican Party!' but the Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Just Won His Primary Anyway - Reason - June 24th, 2020
- Google's warning against the Federalist is why libertarians will lose fight over Big Tech - Washington Examiner - June 24th, 2020
- Texas-based conservative group funding 'green' PAC in MT - KTVH - June 24th, 2020
- Non-mask wearing fools - The Real Nurse Jackie - McKnight's Long Term Care News - June 24th, 2020
- Morelle with big lead over Wilt but absentee votes still to be tallied - WXXI News - June 24th, 2020
- Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard - June 24th, 2020
- How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism - The Guardian - June 24th, 2020
- Radley Balko on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Libertarian Case for Criminal Justice Reform - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- While pro-marijuana parties thrive, other minor parties struggle - Southernminn.com - June 17th, 2020
- Letters: 'It is suggested that Boris's Libertarian beliefs were the reasons for delayed Lockdown' - The Northern Echo - June 17th, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | At the center of that Supreme Court ruling were people - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- The other Jo, wants your 2020 vote, if youre fed up with the two-party system or if youre not - WIZM NEWS - June 17th, 2020
- 'Where Are Libertarians on Police Reform?' Right Where We've Always Been. - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Protests: Meet the Romney-Gary Johnson-Bloomberg voter embracing Black Lives Matter - Vox.com - June 13th, 2020
- What the Pandemic Revealed - Niskanen Center - June 13th, 2020
- Santa Cruz Shooting Suspect Preached Libertarian Ideals, Was Pushed Over the Edge By Police Actions Against Protesters, Friends Say - SFist - June 13th, 2020
- Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosis Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable - Mediaite - June 13th, 2020
- How Not To Build a Transpartisan Coalition for Police Reform - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Primary Election ballots are in the mail | YourHub - The Know - June 13th, 2020
- Scared for their jobs, Iowa Republicans are gaming the democratic process - The Gazette - June 13th, 2020
- 61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth | Jon Miltimore - Foundation for Economic Education - June 13th, 2020
- Nelson lead up to 23 votes over Tarkanian - The Record-Courier - June 13th, 2020
- Amash decides against Libertarian campaign for president | TheHill - The Hill - May 19th, 2020
- Libertarian Group Sues Ohio Again On Behalf Of Closed Gyms - WOSU - May 14th, 2020
- The Libertarian Party Critique of Justin Amash - Reason - May 14th, 2020
- Third Parties Unlikely to Wreak Havoc in 2020 Election - New York Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- Modest meat reforms would help Americans stay fed during the pandemic - The Maine Wire - May 14th, 2020
- Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Drop off or in person, 8 p.m. is deadline to cast your vote in the primary election - North Platte Telegraph - May 14th, 2020
- Another ludicrous Thought of the Day from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will - stopthefud - May 14th, 2020
- Live Blog: Nebraska 2020 Primary Election Results | netnebraska.org - NET Nebraska - May 14th, 2020
- Will COVID-19 block third-party ballot access? - The Aggie - May 14th, 2020
- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash on Why Hed Run for President as a Libertarian and the Culture of the GOP - TIME - May 9th, 2020
- Governments Have Screwed Up Mask Purchase and Distribution. Maybe Everyone Should Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic. - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- We Need Economists, Civil Libertarians, and Epidemiologists in the COVID-19 Discussion - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- Is the Chinese Communist Party Really Trying To Take Over the World? - The National Interest - May 9th, 2020
- 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters - Missoula Current - May 9th, 2020
- The Coronavirus Might Force Minor Parties Off the 2020 Ballot - New York Magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Who should be included in the libertarian canon - UConn Daily Campus - April 21st, 2020
- The Government Has a Lot More Emergency Powers Than Libertarians Like, but It Still Can't Control Everything - Cato Institute - April 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 is killing minor parties' ability to get candidates on the ballot in Minnesota - MinnPost - April 21st, 2020
- Why You Should Be a Socialist and a Marxist - Jacobin magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Mark Cuban To Run For President? Billionaire Dallas Mavericks Owner Does Not Rule Out 2020 White House Bid - International Business Times - April 21st, 2020
- Berkeley institution Top Dog is on the ropes. But they still wont take federal aid. - SFGate - April 21st, 2020
- No One Is Coming - Tom Webster - Elemental - April 21st, 2020
- Briefs filed in case over whether NM will move to vote-by-mail primaries during coronavirus emergency - New Mexico Political Report - April 9th, 2020
- Construction Accidents and Personal Injuries, Everything You Ought To Know - The Libertarian Republic - March 24th, 2020
- 'Tiger King' is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - WICZ - March 24th, 2020
- As Science And Business Go To War With Each Other, President Trump Pours Fuel On The Fire - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Vermin Supreme's quest to win hearts, minds and the Libertarian primaries - The Spectator USA - March 22nd, 2020
- Where the 2020 Libertarian candidates stand on Jewish issues? - The Times of Israel - March 22nd, 2020
- COVID-19 and . . . 2024? - National Review - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul Proves He Is Too Good For Us, As He Upsets the Right People - The Liberator Online - March 22nd, 2020
- Tiger King is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - Q13 News Seattle - March 22nd, 2020
- Campaign Beat: The Pandemic, The Primary And Third Parties - MTPR - March 22nd, 2020
- The Right to Assemble Not Erased By Government Emergency Libertarians to Continue Meeting in Keene Sundays at 5pm - Free Keene - March 22nd, 2020
- Just Send the Checks - Reason - March 22nd, 2020
- Opinion | Rufus Woods, Art of Community: Now is the time to sacrifice for elders and the vulnerable - wenatcheeworld.com - March 22nd, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | Amid the outbreak, Minnesota's minor political parties will struggle to get on the ballot - Minneapolis Star Tribune - March 22nd, 2020
- The small-government case for giving everyone a big check - The Week Magazine - March 22nd, 2020
- Armstrong: Liberty in the midst of a pandemic - Complete Colorado - March 22nd, 2020
- At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing - Telegraph.co.uk - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight | TheHill - The Hill - March 8th, 2020
- Our Standards on Civility are Trash - The Libertarian Republic - March 8th, 2020
- Freelancers Shouldn't Betray Other Gig Workers By Allying with Anti-Union Opponents of AB5 - Common Dreams - March 8th, 2020
- Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Civility and pleas to be heard mark debate among 18 marginal candidates - The Fulcrum - March 5th, 2020
- Talking about a revolution - The Economist - March 5th, 2020
- Plenty of contested races on the ballot this year - Norfolk Daily News - March 5th, 2020
- CA Voters Asked To Approve $17B In School Construction Bonds; Much Of It Unneeded (Opinion) - Patch.com - February 3rd, 2020
- Ahead of polls, New Zealand's opposition party rules out deal with kingmaker Peters - Midwest Communication - February 3rd, 2020
- Will SCOTUS Hearing on Ballot Position Apply to Minor Political Parties? - The Libertarian Republic - February 3rd, 2020
- Fire Wipes Out OC Nonprofit That Helps People Get Back Into The Workforce - LAist - February 3rd, 2020