Maybe America never had a real aristocracy, but it seems many of us badly want to grovel in front of one.
I still think that is fundamentally correct. I think there is a large percentage of people in any population who are what Professor Bob Altemeyer refers to as “Right-Wing Authoritarians,” which means they demonstrate the following traits: (i) a high degree of submission to the established authorities in their society; (ii) high levels of aggression in the name of those authorities; and (iii) a high level of conventionalism.
(Note: “right-wing” - in this case - merely means supportive of the established authority; a right-wing authoritarian in the old USSR would have been a Communist. As used by Altemeyer, “right-wing” has nothing to do with the political spectrum, and everything to do with supporting the existing power structure. Professor Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians is available to read on-line, and for free, here. I really cannot recommend it enough.)
For all that I decry how the (political) Right typically uses the phrase “American Exceptionalism” to justify any and all excesses committed by the American government, I have to admit that there are a few things about the American story that I always have considered “exceptional” - chief among them being the deliberate attempt to craft a society that might be free of any kind of “aristocracy.”
Not that the Founding Fathers succeeded, of course, or even that they unanimously supported that ideal. The very structure of our original Constitution manifests a stark unwillingness to turn over to the American people too much power of self-determination. One of my favorite quotes – which I’ve reproduced before – succinctly explains this tension between those Founders who aspired to a truly representative democracy, and those who wanted to keep a tight control on political power:
Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. . . . Call them therefore liberals and serviles, . . . Whigs and Tories . . . aristocrats and democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of aristocrats and democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.
--Thomas Jefferson to H. Lee, 1824 (emphasis added)
The battle to shift actual control away from the elite and vest it more and more in the American people still rages, but the battle to define the aspirational story of America – the one that we tell our children – already has been won.
And the story we tell our children is Jefferson’s story, in which every person is equal before the law, the basic rights of any person are to be respected even if most everybody else disagrees with that person, everyone has an equal voice with which to help shape our government, and no person or group of people is considered inherently superior to any other.
Of course, America has never once managed to completely keep even one of those promises. But over the past two plus centuries . . . we’ve gotten better. And the mere possibility of drawing closer and closer – not ever even reaching, necessarily, but just getting closer over time - to this Jeffersonian ideal is surely worth continuing the fight.
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The latest front in this fight has got to be the loosely-organized Occupy Wall Street protest, now entering its third week. To date, media coverage has been sparse, but that may be changing given that various unions have decided to join the protest. Also, I understand that various progressive groups in and around Manhattan also are going to organize and join the protest. It has been picking up celebrity support (Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Russell Simmons), and “Tony Baloney’s” completely gratuitous and unprovoked decision to pepper spray some peaceful protesters is beginning – with the help of Jon Stewart – to make the mainstream media sit up and take notice.
I’m not the first to notice that this appears to be an actual grassroots kind of protest, a demand that the elite stop and take into account the demands of the people . . . and that the Teabaggers, much lauded by what passes for the “mainstream media” these days (Fox News, I’m squinting at you), are nowhere to be found on this front line.
But, then again, why would they be? For all of their claims to be “equally angry at both parties” the Teabaggers never were that. They were never upset because they thought the government had lost its way . . . they were only upset because the government had been taken over by the Democrats and by a strange-looking swarthy man who seemed to think – just ‘cause he had gotten the most votes – that he didn’t still need to enter the Oval Office by the servants’ door. That was seen as a bit ‘uppity’ (yeah, I said it) and so they were determined to “take their country back.”
But never in their wildest dreams would it have occurred to them that they should be trying to “take their country back” from the people who had actually stolen it from them: the Wall Street banksters. As I am very fond of pointing out to anybody who mistakes these meatballs for a ragtag group of patriots just trying to save America . . . these people only got started when a millionaire bobblehead on a 24-hour cable show devoted entirely to worshipful coverage of the financial industry caused a ruckus about the American government trying to help out actual middleclass Americans – as opposed to the American financial industry and its billionaire banksters.
The bottom line is that the Teabaggers never have been concerned – not once – that the government might go into debt giving money away to the already rich . . . they are only concerned that the government not give any money to the poor or the middleclass. As Dave Weigel explained, “[w]hen the Tea Party started rallying in 2009 it wasn’t protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers.” (emphasis added).
To understand what the Teabaggers are really about, just repeat that Weigel sentence and substitute the word “rich” for “productive” and the word “poor” for “moochers.” The rich – to the Teabaggers – are deserving Americans; Teabaggers can tell this, because rich people are rich. The poor and middleclass – to the Teabaggers – are undeserving Americans; Teabaggers can tell this, because the poor and middleclass are not rich. Once one recognizes this then one understands the Teabaggers’ only real goal is to support the aristocracy even if they are not – and never will be – members of that aristocracy themselves.
The Teabaggers are nothing more than Bob Altemeyer’s “right-wing authoritarians”: wildly happy to submit to the established authorities (i.e., the rich and powerful) and highly aggressive against any who would challenge that authority (i.e., the Occupy Wall Street protesters). Which is why if we see the Teabaggers at this protest at all, we will see them there as a counter-protest, supporting the banksters.
(Although, quite frankly, I don’t think they’ll show up. Teabaggers haven’t demonstrated any kind of ability to organize any demonstration that wasn’t (i) organized for them by the Koch brothers, or (ii) promoted by Fox News. Besides . . . how many Medicare-supplied rascal scooters do you think they could fit down those crowded Manhattan streets?)
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Still, the Teabaggers are just the latest if currently the most prominent face of this insane, irrational desire so many humans have to revere and exalt others. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett:
It’s one of those ideas that just kind of fits in people’s heads, isn’t it? Like there’s a space waiting for it. Things’d be better if we had a king. No one can tell you why they think this, they just do.
And, to tell you the truth, I have no idea how many people this insanity has infected. I mean, sure, I know there’s a constant baseline 27% for any insanity, but maybe in this case it goes higher.
So I’m looking forward to seeing what the reactions are to this video . . . assuming it gets the kind of national coverage it deserves:
Specifically, what I’m wondering is how many people will watch these images of the rich and powerful standing on a balcony, sipping champagne and mock-toasting the protesters below, and say to themselves: Too right, Man! Screw those hippy scum! I’m with you, rich bankster dudes! How many ordinary, aristocracy-worshipping little people will unthinkingly side with the rich, the powerful, the elite, the arrogant, the insufferable who can laughingly mock the people protesting in the street against the misery those elites themselves have caused?
Because, unfortunately, I think it’s going to be a lot more than any reasonable person might imagine.
And, oh yeah . . . Let me just go on record: I chose my nom de blog for reasons entirely different than identifying myself with the “swells” captured in the above video. And I am offended by the use of that word to describe those people on the balcony. ; )