(This is the second in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)
There’s something fascinating about the Tea Party, about the combination of grass roots energy, passionate conviction, profound ignorance, “Constitutional Idolatry”, and well, popularly imposed political dysfunctionality. The similarity to, and overlap with, its previously most robust incarnation, in the Christian Fundamentalist movement that has been such a major presence in conservative politics since the 1980′s, is striking. But it’s the continuation of the progress of this particular populist disease, like the nation’s auto-immune system attacking the body it was activated to protect, triggered in opposition to real infections, but doing the nation far more harm than those infections ever would have.
Mike Littwin coined the title phrase in his excellent column on the Tea Party phenomenon in today’s Denver Post (http://www.denverpost.com/littwin/ci_16412033). I’ve always thought that the two sides in the debate whether the Tea Party is an organically arising grass roots movement, or a creation of wealthy corporate conservative donors manipulating and exploiting popular angst to their own advantage, missed the obvious: It’s a synergy between the two.
The Tea Party isn’t the only example of political fundamentalism in America. There are political fundamentalists on the left as well, those who think that the Tea Party, Obama, and the OFA, in which all actors are a ”faux”-something-or-other, are all involved in “a pincer movement” controlled by “corporate fascists,” launching a concerted assault on all of the “true”-something-or-others (as one particularly shallow and intolerant-of-dissent left-wing blogger put it on SquareState recently). Michael Bennet, of course, and the Obama/OFA organized “theft” of the Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate primary are the principal mustache-twirling villains in the story (with Andrew Romanoff tied to the tracks as a steam engine chugged toward him?).
The similarities between these conflicting fundamentalisms are far more significant than the differences, in much the same way that the similarities between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists are far more striking than the differences. They are all edifices of assumed truths, oversimplified constructs informed by superficial understandings of complex dynamics, constantly reinforced with post hoc rationalizations and interpretations. And they are highly militant, utterly uncompromising (indeed, seeing any compromise as betrayal), trumpeting some kind of call-to-arms or another against some externalized enemy that renders the inherently innocent populous mere dupes of the all-powerful villains.
But left-wing fundamentalism in America, while certainly no better than right-wing fundamentalism, is far less of a threat, because it has attracted far fewer adherents. In a country in which a significant portion of the electorate calls Obama and Michael Bennet “socialists,” the overwrought left-wingers who call them willing agents of corporate fascism are about as significant as a disheveled guy on 16th Street Mall wearing a sandwich placard announcing impending doom. (I’m not disputing the alarming role that corporate money plays in American politics, but rather its reduction to an oversimplified narrative of “good guys” and “bad guys”, the former defined as all those who both agree on all points with the speaker and refuse to make any compromises, and the latter as any who either disagree with the speaker on any point or work within the system as it is, whether to reform it or to preserve it.)
It is right-wing political fundamentalism in America which marks the progress of the disease that has been incubating since our conception, a sort of proud anti-intellectualism that generally has privileged ignorance over knowledge, false certainty over humility, and dogma over analysis. Many who were concerned about this undercurrent of American culture saw Christian Fundamentalism as its most threatening incarnation, but Christian Fundamentalism was never something that would grow beyond certain bounds: The country as a whole had become too libertine, too materialistic, and too pragmatic for it to have spread much farther than it already had.
However, like a virus that “knows” it had found the limits of its reproductive vitality, and mutates in order to be able to spread, Christian Fundamentalism secularized itself, transforming itself into political fundamentalism, replacing biblical idolatry with constitutional idolatry, altering its memes to better resonate with more people, focusing all of its self-destructive militant energy on causes which any uninformed individual can easily embrace.
With this mutation of American fundamentalism, the disease is raging like a fire through the polity, a mania, made only more robust and threatening by the attempt by wealthy corporate interests to foment and co-opt the spread of the disease itself (Systems Analysis, Politics, and the Uneasy Alliance of Ignorance and Privilege). But it may be more accurate to say that the disease is co-opting the wealthy corporate interests: True to the auto-immune disease metaphor, the virus has co-opted the central nervous system in an out-of-control synergy of self-destruction. And it is a phenomenon truly worthy of concern.