The Tea Party Movement and the Emergence of the Multi-cultural Majority in America
By Bill Honer
United States Census Projections reveal that by 2042, Non-Hispanic Whites will comprise a mere 38% of the population. This suggests profound changes within American society are likely to occur; research indicates that the emerging 62 % majority of Asians, Blacks, Hispanic Whites and others share different values on key issues than the current White majority. White voters soundly rejected Barak Obama in the 2008 election, supporting the Republican candidate by 56% to 43%. Yet Obama won handily by eight million votes. Only one in three Asians and Hispanics and one out of ten Blacks supported the defeated Republican candidate. There is reason for conservatives to be concerned.
The 2008 election demonstrated that the days of White domination of the electorate will give way to the tide of racial demographics in the form of a multi-cultural majority of Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and others. Can conservatives, with their calls to patriotism and the 19th century traditions of rugged individualism and anti-intellectualism, succeed politically in the coming decades without promoting policies that extend beyond the patriotic colors of red, white and blue?
The Tea Party Protest is a response to the loss of power of the White conservative vote in America. It is not clear how many conservatives support the movement, nor is it known how many conservatives have been embarrassed by it, given the racist caricatures portraying President Obama as a primate during demonstrations, or by the Tea Party Convention’s opening speaker Tancredi lamenting the unconstitutionality of literacy tests that prevented many Blacks from voting in decades past. He offered the assessment that a continuation of those laws would have prevented an Obama Presidency. .
The core values of the tea party protesters include anti-intellectualism, individualism, and for at least some, racism. According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, Whites are the only racial group with a majority favoring the death penalty and the only one opposed to government assistance, viewing such aid as "socialism". This suggests the emergence of an American society that will expect more substance from elected officials in the future than simple appeals to individualism and anti-intellectualism. Such appeals are unlikely to resonate to the same degree with the majority of the emerging majority that includes traditions of collective support and respect for the well educated.
American Life Under the White Majority. During the past 50 years, the traditions of rugged individualism, anti-intellectualism and racism were woven deeply into the American social and political fabric. Less than one half a century ago, America’s Blacks and Hispanics were denied access to stores, schools, public facilities and full participation as equal citizens. A Latino friend recalls growing up in Texas during the sixties, where she had to have a white friend buy a candy bar because she was not permitted to enter the store.
Racism and discrimination continue to plague America, although significant advances have been made. Despite of the denials by many conservatives, discrimination continues to exist. Although given to cries of socialism during the health care debate, many conservatives fail to grasp that America has long had, with its oil and other corporate subsidies, in the words of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor." The Tea Prty cries for fiscal responsibility are surprising since the tax cuts and the reckless “borrow and spend” policies of conservative Presidents, including Reagan and Bush resulted in huge budget deficits. kAmerican conservatives are overwhelmingly White. Indeed, the 2008 Republican convention floor was filled with so many white faces that one commentator noted that it was a good place to play the children’s game "Where's Waldo?", with Waldo as a person of color. Can Republican supporters have failed to notice that their party has been less than pro-active in remedying discrimination against minorities? From the “whiteout” at the republican convention, it would appear that minorities have taken notice of the lack of support for equitable treatment.
Individualism in America.
It was no accident that the 1995 Welfare Reform Act that limited aid to dependent children and their families was entitled “The Personal Responsibility Act”. The message from the conservative Congress was clear. Individuals in American society are responsible for themselves, rather than their bring the responsibility of the government or society, for their survival. The Constitution’s explanation of the purpose of government is “to promote the general welfare” is generally excluded from the conservative reading of the Constitution. Recently, a Lieutenant Governor in South Carolina, in explaining why he was opposed to welfare, commented that his mother encouraged him never to feed stray animals because they would continue breeding. Although these comments were condemned in some circles, political scientists noted that they would be well received by his Evangelical Republican base in South Carolina.
Anti-intellectualism. For evidence that anti-intellectual sensibilities continue to prevail among many White Americans, one need look no further than the popularity of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who publicly disgraced herself on national television in 2008 with her lack of general knowledge on the issues of the day. Aides to presidential candidate John McCain added to the derision by providing examples of her rather astonishing ignorance, commenting that Palin believed Africa was a country rather than a continent. Despite her widely publicized intellectual limitations, the majority of White American voters cast their ballots to place her a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
What social conditions have been present under the White Majority during the last 50 years? Fifty million Americans lack health insurance. The death penalty, widely rejected by the advanced nations of the world, continues to exist. The United States is ranked 31st in life expectancy, according to the United Nations 2010 Human Development Report, with Cuba ranked 32nd. The government admits to over 600,000 homeless in America, but most analysts consider this figure well below the actual incidence of homelessness in the nation. U.S. 2007 Census data reveal one half of working Americans earn less than $2000 a month. The incidence of poverty is hidden by the government by a low threshold of $1800 a month for a family of four.
Given the cost of rent, food, and utilities, the threshold is designed to save the government the embarrassment of acknowledging that close to five Americans is living a poverty ridden existence. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) using a different measure for poverty declared in 2008 that child poverty in the US is 20% and poverty among the elderly is 23%.
The White American majority has offered people “The American Dream”, which is still widely quoted as something marvelous to achieve, even by the current President. How is the American dream defined? The most obvious answer appears to be ownership of a home and a car, along with having a job. For many members of the advanced nations of the world, these are considered the essentials of life upon one which one builds a quality of life involving travel, literature, the arts, music, and other areas of social interest. The American Dream rather pathetically begins and ends with the basics. International travel is a limited option since only one in five Americans possesses a passport.
A recent National Geographic/Roper survey found that, among 18 to 24 year olds, six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, forty-seven percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia, seventy-five percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East, nearly three-quarters incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language, six in 10 did not know the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world, thirty percent thought the most heavily fortified border was between the United States and Mexico.
As a young, crude, and brutal nation, America has more of its citizens incarcerated than any nation in the world, with more than 1% of its adult population in prison. (Pew Center on the States-2008). America faces challenges in achieving a high level of social advancement, given the pervasive individualism that clearly militates against a sense of community among its people. The Sociologist Kluegel has surveyed American attitudes towards the poor. Roughly 75% of Americans attribute poverty to the “personal and moral deficiencies of the poor.” Unlike Americans who blame the poor for their poverty, respondents from twelve European nations attributed poverty to structural issues, such as unemployment, discrimination, and low wages. The prospects of increased social advancement with the emerging multi-cultural majority are enhanced by the strong values of mutual support extant among many Asians, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders.
For years, White Americans have gone to the polls voting in part on symbolic issues and values offered by conservatives. However once elected, conservative politicians often pursue a pro-business agenda while ignoring the very issues that were offered to their conservative constituents, such as prayer in the schools. The America that the tea party demonstrators have grown to know and love is changing in ways that are unlikely to be reversed. Will they accept these changes as part of the democratic process, or will a different
response be forthcoming from them? One factor is virtually assured from a reading of the US Census Projections: in the coming decades, there will be fewer Whites attending the tea party.