Constitutional Protest: The US Constitution Unites the Left and Right in Fundamental Disagreement
The Tea Party movement gets plenty of support from established right-wing financiers and media, but the mood that drives it is as real as it is sometimes bizarre. In 2010, nearly one-third of Republicans told pollsters they believed Barack Obama was a Muslim, and a quarter affirmed the astonishing thought that the President “might be the Anti-Christ”. Only about half of Republicans and a third of Tea Party supporters acknowledge the well-documented warming of the planet, and the numbers who accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the warming are markedly lower. At last count, 13 states were considering laws like Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment forbidding courts to draw on sharia law—a virtually imaginary prospect that has nonetheless inspired real anxiety. In a patently unconstitutional gesture of populist defiance, a number of states have adopted laws defying the healthcare reform that Congress adopted in 2010. These are fragments of the new populism that has gripped the Republican Party, swept a micro-generation of right-wing true believers into Congress, and set the tone for the party’s presidential nomination process.
The conservative and libertarian Tea Party movement has thoroughly shaped this year’s Republican race. Climate-change denial, categorical refusal of new taxes, and accusations of socialism, or social democracy-style “entitlement society”, against the Democrats underlie the Republican candidates’ campaigning. In effect, Tea Party ideology has a veto on the Republican primary, though the movement may well end up jilted once the general election begins.
The movement was entering its third year of political life when the moribund, half-forgotten left struck back with its own populist surge, the Occupy movement. This started in Manhattan’s Liberty Plaza Park but spiralled into a claimed 600 occupations in the US alone, with many more abroad. In October 2011, a month after the Occupy Wall Street gathering started, 42 per cent of Americans said they supported the goals of the motley crowds camping in parks, post-office plazas, town and campus greens, and elsewhere. The question was ill-posed, though understandably so. Occupy produced no official goals—an artefact of its anarchist-inspired structure—but the banners were articulate: corporations, money in politics, and financial capitalism were the enemy, more democracy and equality the answers. By mid-November when the New York City police cleared out the Liberty Plaza Park encampment, public support had fallen to about one third, hurt by television coverage of a few violent clashes in which police were mainly the aggressors.