Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Populism: riding the Scotch-Irish tiger

Below is an example of good populism


This is an example of bad populism

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The Tea Party Convention is over and any amateur anthropologist who treasures our folkways, folklore and the cultural artifacts known as "Americana" will have found much to enjoy.

So much has changed in America over the centuries since it was first colonized by settlers from the British Isles that in many ways the country is hardly recognizable from what it was in say, the early 19th century. But the Scotch-Irish, who with the Native-Americans and the African-Americans are one of America's founding tribes and who make up the cultural backbone, the soul, if you will, of the Tea Party movement are still perfectly recognizable.

Their ancestors came to colonial America from the anus mundi of an orangeman's Ulster, hungry for land and hungry for work and they had to fight the Indians for the land and compete with the slave labor of the African-Americans for wages. These struggles did nothing to soothe their irritable natures, sweeten the sourness of their Calvinism or give them a sunny view of life or a charitable view of those of their brethren of duskier complexion. In short this is a breed or a caste that treasures its resentment and nurtures the adrenaline of its explosions of violence as a miser would old coins, knowing where each one came from and what it cost. The often poetic self pity of country-western lyrics, set to the warrior dissonances of Celtic music give a bay window into the bitterness and disappointment of a race of hard fighting, hard working, losers.

They also make up the backbone of America's military caste and any military prestige that such a hedonistic country as United States has is probably due to disciplining and directing the pent up rage of the Scotch-Irish.

The Scotch-Irish  also provide a ready made cultural context for any more recent arrival that has less hereditary claim on such thin-lipped acrimony. That might explain where somebody with a name like "Tancredo" gets off spouting nativist crap like he was a "McTancredo".

The Scotch-Irish have been used as the right wing's rottweiler ever since Nixon weaned them from the bosom of FDR and transformed the party of Lincoln into the party of "state's rights" and discovered that the horror of even a nickel of their tax money being spent on black people was greater than their desire for health or an education for their own children. AIPAC even convinced these natural haters of all that is scholarly or cosmopolitan that their starring role in the Apocalypse depended on the existence of the state of Israel. Obviously an African-American, with a middle name like "Hussein" in the White House is a rank provocation to the racist traditions and phobias of this tribe, but that Obama may be turning out to be completely ineffectual is like pointing a cap pistol into a mafia soldato's face and crying, "bang you're dead".

With the bailout of Wall Street something snapped. The right has feasted on their resentment for years... The waiter has just arrived with the check.

Suddenly corporate America's rottweiler's has a strange glint in its eye and is emitting a low, throaty, growl.   The conservative movement has been cultivating the resentment of this tribe for many years, but now with their homes and retirement in jeopardy  they appear to be turning on bankers and Wall Street.

The rottweiler is off his chain.

If corporate power thinks they can ride to safety on the back of the Scotch-Irish they may find themselves on the back of a tiger... These spawn of Oliver Cromwell are what is left of the America of Andrew Jackson and along with the Pashtun of Afghanistan, a badder-assed tribe than America's Scotch-Irish would be hard to find... You'd have to go back to Ulster to even get close.

The people like Rupert Murdoch and Sarah Palin who are pimping the hurt and resentment of this tribe are taking their lives in their hands. If you don't believe me, whip out your Ouija board and channel Timmy McVeigh. It is nowhere written in heaven that this tribe is wedded eternally to shareholder capitalism. Leave the teabag in the hot water a bit longer and the descendants of Jackson, Bryant and Huey Long could give you quite a surprise.

What can progressives do with this, besides fueling more of its rage with their ridicule and condescension?

It is important to take Tom Tancredo's nauseating speech and, like a neurosurgeon winkling out a brain tumor without trashing the piano lessons, find what emotional levers there are in this speech that could be put to better use.

For example, if the Teabaggers want "Judeo-Christianity" give it to them till they choke on it. I would take the bible and apply it to them like a red hot iron.

Here, for example are some choice bits  from the book of Deuteronomy - 14 -22:
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.(...)Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge: But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.  When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.  When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing. - Quoted by Socialist Spanish president, José Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, at the recent Washington "National Prayer Breakfast".
If they are so serious in all their Bible thumping and pumping, that business about "Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates", more or less ties it up on hassling immigrants doesn't it?

You betcha.

And how about the Beatitudes: they like Jesus? Hit them with Luke 6:20-26: 
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
That "woe unto you that are rich" is not exactly Gordon Gecko, is it?

These texts, and others like them from the world's great religions, are the earliest expressions of the universal human hatred of oppression and thirst for social justice. As such they help give shape and a common, deeply rooted, electrifying language to express a growing consciousness that things are not as they should be.

They are also a barrier against the taking out of frustrations on those  that are even more vulnerable and weaker than we are, which is as workmanlike description of fascism as I can think of.

Trying to make the Teabaggers square their program with the Holy Bible might short circuit the whole business.

All of this is about building consciousness and directing it into positive and effective channels. That is the political task facing progressives today. I am not totally pessimistic that this is impossible. As I keep repeating: the natives are restless.

In short there must be a progressive "tea party" movement... come to think of it, the civil rights struggle and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were progressive "tea parties".

I think consciousness is growing exponentially these days. When people got so starry eyed about Barack Obama they were expecting him to be the solution to any number of specific problems. His supporters had correctly identified the problems, although by now it seems that they erred as to the solution.

To save the situation we must look to the impulse that caused people to support Barack Obama in the first place rather than looking to Obama himself. That impulse is what must be cultivated. To Obama goes the credit for discovering how deep, how resonant and how strong the chords he was playing on are.

Now that it is getting increasingly obvious that Obama "can't" or "wont" play the instrument he discovered, progressives themselves should again proclaim: "Yes we can!" and organize accordingly. DS


Ralph said...

My mother was appalled whenever I said "the Turners were starving in Northern Ireland before coming to starve in Virginia in 1750 -- it wasn't until they hit Mississippi that they "made good" in the years after the Civil War.
THIS IS AN EXCELLENT PIECE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DEMOGRAPHICS. I differ, however, in the utility of the gospels, the old testament or even the Koran in bring these folks around.
Too many have drunk from the Zionist font and know IN THEIR BONES that all that matters is supporting Israel in the approaching times of trouble.(Also plays to their militaristic mindset.) Rather than cut "others" any slack, or reflect upon the inherent failings of wealth (eye of a camel & all that)it's so much easier to believe that a blind devotion to Eretz Yisrael validates their ticket to the Rapture and guarantees a seat at the right hand of the Lamb. Still and all, I've always argued that a truly pissed off cracker was more deadly than half a dozen Al Qaeda.

Forensic economist said...

More from Deuteronomy - for the zionists -

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.19:14

Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' 27:17


The leaders of Judah are like those who move boundary markers. I will pour my fury on them like water. Hosea 5:10

First ran across this in "Giants on the Earth" a wonderful novel of Norwegian immigrants settling and dieing in the Dakota prairie.

Yes, my ancestors were from County Antrim. What you say is true.

Ralph said...

Oops! Talk about compressed metaphors! Meant, of course, "eye of the needle," though there's a certain charm to the mangled version as well.

Anonymous said...

Time for some tea, preferably a Scotch-Irish brand: