In the weeks since Trump’s election, emotions have run high on both sides of the aisle. But, overwhelmingly, there have been calls to work with the other side and to navigate our differences to come to some form of compromise. Growing up in the left-liberal corner of the universe, Portland, Oregon, I have gotten very little exposure to differing political opinions. As a young woman of color who also happens to be a vegetarian and drives a fully electric car, my immediate community are either young people, who lean left; minorities, who overwhelmingly have voted Democratic since 2008; or people who care about environmentalism (generally speaking, not in the Republican Party). While I do interact with old, white men, it is within the context of academia, most of whom are socially liberal or, at least, promote inclusivity and diversity within the classroom. I know a handful of Republicans, but not a single member of the Tea Party. In my efforts to start working with the other side, I decided to read up on the Tea Party’s views, as an attempt to understand where they are coming from and, hopefully, to compromise on policy in the near future. In our post-truth era, I didn’t trust the Internet for my research so decided on Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson’s The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservativism, because it has gotten solid reviews, seemed relatively manageable (around 250 pages), and was a relatively-inexpensive buy.
Financial views: I get it
The core of the Tea Party’s stance is around taxation and government spending. Contrary to popular belief, Skocpoal and Williamson found that being a member of the Tea Party does not equate to being part of the Republican Party or being a conservative. While certainly there is overlap between groups, not all Tea Party members have such strong social views as conservatives. The thrust of the argument lies in who is deserving of government spending versus who is undeserving of government money. For example, throughout their lives people pay into Social Security and, thus, Social Security payments have been worked for and are okay. In comparison, a young person who is on welfare and has not contributed to society is less deserving of government spending.
These grassroots views are backed by the conservative establishment as key interest groups like American for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation, have been longtime supporters of less government spending and smaller government overall. Given that I do not have a job and with no income, don’t pay taxes I can see why working for an income and then having to ‘give it away’ could be frustrating for some. The argument that some people have not paid into the system and thus are less deserving of government spending seems logical; but I also think about historically marginalized, impoverished communities and know that social services and government spending have profound positive impact. While the Tea Party may not share conservative social views, it is impossible to be both fiscally conservative and socially liberal, as socially-liberal ideas of universal healthcare, climate action, and welfare for those in need are contingent on economic policies.
Attitude problem: a party of negative Nancys
The attitude of many Tea Partiers seemed largely negative and somewhat unproductive. Instances of going to rallies and duping their congress-people seemed largely unproductive to me. Perhaps my young naiveté predisposes me to want to treat people kindly and to generally have trust in our system and fellow countrymen; but I do understand that a lot of people in 2008, when the Tea Party began, had serious concerns over the direction of our country. Right now as the Trump Administration is assembled, I am feeling concerned about the direction of our country, but am hopeful that things will be all right.
The rhetoric of many Tea Party members is framed in the context of complaints against government: the national budget, welfare, elected officials. While certainly speaking out against perceived wrongs and injustices can lead to reform and progress, it is still unclear to me exactly what the Tea Party wants out of government. If instead of framing their woes as complaints, but, instead, as actionable items and clear objectives, perhaps we could have a more productive discussion.
The future: discordant paths
In thinking about the views I was exposed to in researching the Tea Party, I found I could understand where supporters were coming from. While I was slightly dismayed by the sometimes racist rhetoric and general negativity, less taxed and less-regulation by government is not completely crazy. But, going forward, serving both Tea Party interests and progressive interests seems mutually exclusive. The polarization of our political sphere is worrisome, but there is simply no easy solution for reckoning these two sides. Finding places for compromise like improving schools and infrastructure will hopefully work to create constructive dialogue and set a foundation for us to start working on some more contested issues.
While I certainly still have misgivings about certain conservative policies and the tactics of the Tea Party, learning about the views of others was an overall productive experience for me. Into the future I hope that other GenZers and politically active people also take the time to understand a new point of view. If we are able to understand each other and talk through our conflicting views perhaps we can move away from political polarization to productive politics.