One of the oddest features of the Boston Tea Party, from which our current crop of Tea Party populists draw their inspiration, is that a number of those long-ago guerilla activists dressed up as Mohawk Indians, venting their anger by emitting Indian war cries, and carrying tomahawks to slice open the bags of tea. This masquerade captured a fundamental ambivalence that has characterized populist risings ever since. After all, if in late eighteenth century America, the Indian already functioned as a symbol of an oppressed people and so proved suitable for use by others who felt themselves put upon, it was also the case that the ancestors of those Boston patriots had managed to exterminate a goodly portion of the region’s Native American population in pursuit of their own self-aggrandizement.Go read the original post. It is filled with American history and will give you a better feel of how the current protests fit into the long history of populist movements in the US.
Today’s Tea Party movement, like so many of its “populist” predecessors, is a house of contradiction, a bewildering network of crosscutting political emotions, ideas, and institutions. What connects it powerfully to a populist past stretching all the way back to Boston Harbor is, however, a sense of violation: “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Tea Party populism should also be thought of as a kind of identity politics of the right. Almost entirely white, and disproportionately male and older, Tea Party advocates express a visceral anger at the cultural and, to some extent, political eclipse of an America in which people who looked and thought like them were dominant (an echo, in its own way, of the anguish of the Know-Nothings). A black President, a female Speaker of the House, and a gay head of the House Financial Services Committee are evidently almost too much to bear. Though the anti-immigration and Tea Party movements so far have remained largely distinct (even if with growing ties), they share an emotional grammar: the fear of displacement.
Steve Fraser is editor-at large of New Labor Forum, co-founder of the American Empire Project, a writer, and an historian. His latest book is Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace.
Joshua B. Freeman teaches history at the City University of New York. He is currently completing a history of the United States since World War II as part of the Penguin History of the U.S.
These two have put together a fact-filled romp through populist US history. It is well worth your time. Read it.