The sociology of the second-tier reactionaries

Michael Lind has an interesting article in Salon on the composition and the sociology of the right-wing movement called, deceptively, the Tea Party. (Given who they are and what they want, there is no doubt in my mind that during the American Revolution they would have moved to Canada, like many other minor wealth holders, to protect their property and avoid participating in revolutionary democratic politics.)

We knew that the movement came from the Confederacy, that it was funded by hard right plutocrats and that it depended on manipulating white working class voters. Lind makes clear who the heart of the movement is, and why the policies they now promote (which look crazy when you consider the traditional Republican constituency, at least in the North) are not irrational. Lind argues that the proponents are mid-level businessmen who depend on low wage labor and who have nothing in common with the über-capitalists on the coasts. They are car dealers, large store owners, members of the local country club elite. The policies, including default and wrecking the federal government, makes sense to them because they have entrenched themselves in local government and any federal involvement, however benevolent to them or their constituents, can only tend to dislodge them from their (relatively small) perch of power.

I highly recommend reviewing the piece to those who don’t often spend much time below the Mason-Dixon line. I occasionally go to Texas and had suspicions that the false good cheer of the local elites, with their out of date suits and short-sleeved dress shirts, masked something more ominous. But I could never formulate the analysis that Lind sets forth, because mainly, it is easier on my nerves to avoid them altogether and instead immerse in the very tiny, somewhat progressive groups that inhabit Austin.

The big picture you have after reflecting on Lind’s analysis is that the American original sin, slavery, etched into the very founding document, has permanently distorted the class system of the South. The failure to fully root out during Reconstruction the white authoritarian culture (with its assist from their national mythology of the Lost Cause) has haunted the country since the Civil War. It did not help that New Deal and Great Society money was used to prop up existing social and political structures rather than attempt to subvert them. But that mistake was caused by the bargain with the devil Democrats made, until the relatively recently, to tolerate the racist and authoritarian sentiments of the Dixiecrats in order to carry the electoral votes of those states. The Democrats have attempted to woe Wall Street as a replacement for the South. So there doesn’t appear to be any hope there, even now that the Party appears to be completely de-Confederatized. But that is a different story.

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