Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tea Party Patriots on the March

A tea party
Kathleen Canning, professor of modern era German history at the University of Ann Arbour, presently visiting professor at Freiburg's University, introduced political Polarization in the US at the Stammtisch of the Freiburg Madison Gesellschaft. Here is what I wrote down about the evening:

In a political environment where many things went out of control – the wars that America fights, the derailing of the international financial system, the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – a government has to adjust to facing old and new challenges. But how much government is needed? Enter the Tea Party Patriots fighting the Obama administration on all fronts.

Professor Canning informed an amazed audience about the right-wing movement in the States questioning whether the President is an American (Barack the Magic Negro), moving the public health insurance close to the Nazi euthanasia program, and calling adversaries socialists or even threatening them with physical attacks. While Kathleen was somewhat afraid about this political polarization in the US, we Europeans still regard the States as a bulwark of democracy. The discussion that followed was one of the most lively ones we ever had at our Stammtisch.

Here are some personal thoughts: During her talk, Kathleen occasionally referred to the Weimar Republic in Germany from 1919 to 1933. The fact is that the Germans not only had lost the First World War but also their dignity when the victors charged them with full responsibility for the disaster that had afflicted Europe. No wonder that in the Weimar Republic a song became popular: Wir wollen unsern alten Kaiser Wilhelm wieder haben, aber ohne Bart (We want back our old Kaiser Wilhelm but without his beard). Mind you, nobody meant Wilhelm II but his father Wilhelm I. Under his reign and due to its unification in 1871, Germany developed during the Gründerjahre into a country with a prosperous bourgeois society and a working-class not wholly decoupled from the wealth. Old fox Bismarck curtailed the socialist movement introducing an old age and health insurance system run by the State.

After the lost war, the ideals of the bourgeoisie were in shambles, the working-class unemployed. This caused a political cleavage in Germany with the formation of radical political parties at the right and the left of the party spectrum. Political murder and putsches were frequent. As the economic situation deteriorated with the Black Thursday in 1929 and unemployment rising, the gains of Communists and Nazis in democratic elections surged, preventing the formation of stable governments. The disaster that followed you all know.

Would Joe the Plumber* yearning for the traditional American values hum a similar tune today as the middle-class German in the Weimar Republic? I don't know, but taking into account what I wrote above about the situation in the US cannot be compared to the Weimar Republic. In the States, contrary to Europe, right and left-wing parties, although they exist, do not play any role. The fight between right and left takes place within the two traditional parties. Will, in particular, the Republicans split as the moderate intellectuals may no longer tolerate the primitive propaganda of their extreme right.
*Not to be confused with Piotr Adamski, the plombier Polonais in France who has a different profile

Middle-class America is greatly disturbed, feeling that many traditional values do no longer hold while the US faces new challenges. Can one really go back to the good old times with church and sheriff where the minister told the congregation the right way on Sundays, and sheriff Mad Dillon's six-shooter assured that no killers or spoilers disturbed the hard-working and country-loving people?

1 comment:

  1. Many Americans still hold the UNCONSCIOUS belief that America is the best, most advanced, and richest country in the world, and this may have been so indeed some 50 years ago. Now these people hear that every other industrial country has better and more effective health care at less cost, and are asked to look beyond their borders for inspiration or solutions to problems they often do not acknowledge yet. This questions their unconscious beliefs and values. Defensively they pick on Obama, said not to be a properly born US citizen, a black, and an intellectual (like Wilson?). Their insecurity shows in phrases like 'socialistic like them Europeans', or 'the government better not touch my Medicare'. Couple that with religious beliefs as in 'the Bible says', the intelligent design/evolution debate, the financial crisis where Wall Street bankers do well while jobs get outsourced to foreign countries and company sponsored pensions go bust,... As a reaction Americans become rightious or receptive to conspiracy theories.