How the Far Right Weaponized America’s Democratic RootsRoundup
tags: conservatism, far right, Tea Party, nationalism
Joe Lowndes is a professor of political science at the University of Oregon. His most recent book, with Daniel Martinez HoSang, is Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity (2019). He blogs at JoeLowndes.org.
The deep chasm in American political culture continues to open, and to generate irreconcilable positions on everything from climate change to Covid-19 to critical race theory. The intensity of this divide is driven largely by the zeal of the right and its appetite to remake the polity in its image, leaving Democrats and liberals as defenders of the American political system.
Nowhere is this clearer than the January 6 insurgency and the meanings made of it seven months later. A recent Quinnipiac poll held that 84 percent of Democrats consider the events of that day to be “an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten,” while other polls show that Republican use of such terms as “patriotism” and “defense of freedom” to describe it continue to gain popularity.
Were the events that day an attempted putsch or an extravagant fit of democratic passions? While it requires us to face some uncomfortable truths about our own democratic myths, perhaps we should consider the possibility that they were both.
The testimony of the Capitol Police, presented during the dramatic first day of House hearings on the January 6 insurrection, confirmed the most dire liberal assumptions about the rioters: They were rageful, vicious, and in some cases clearly driven by racial animus. Theirs was the national vanguard of a growing anti-democratic force in U.S. politics, one that launched an assault on the American political system itself, seeking to negate the will of the voters in the 2020 presidential election.
But to treat the movement that gave rise to the insurrection as alien to American politics and culture would be to miss something crucial about what animates its partisans and makes them dangerous. The United States is currently in a moment of intense political division. As this divide grows, the most ardent opponents of voting rights, social protest, and teaching the history and present of racial domination in our schools act in the name of the insurrectionary energy of the American Revolution. Exploring this paradox can both help us understand the trajectory of the contemporary right and better think through principles and strategies to combat it.
The origin of the right-wing movement that unites Proud Boys, militias, Blue Lives Matter police nationalists, and, frankly, the current mass of the Republican Party is not Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy but the 2009 Tea Party movement. At the time, the cosplay quality of its participants, from the tricorn hats to the Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, seemed like a harmless, even laughable feature. But the myths of the founding embraced by the Tea Party are perhaps the most sustaining force in the imaginary of the contemporary far right—particularly now as it is faced with the growing popularity of a counter–national origin story: that of 1619.