But the racism is there. It is there in a high school acquaintance of mine who shocked me on Facebook by saying that we should absolutely not send money to Haiti, since they weren't grateful for it anyway. And in so many other ways.
But I am working my way through Jill Lepore's The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the battle over American History and enjoying it immensely. Lepore moves nicely between the past and the present, and along the way, reminds me of a lot of things I had forgotten and teaches me some things I didn't know. For example, I am reminded in her book that Robert Bork was the guy who agreed to fired Archibald Cox, and that conservatives considered him a great mind worthy of the Supreme Court.
But Lepore makes some very good historical linkages that, as a specialist in the post Civil War, I had simply forgotten. Those early Tea Partiers and revolutionaries were battling within themselves over that great American sin: slavery. In fact, there were movements to abolish slavery at the time, and the first Tea Party had to decide whether to fight that battle then, or lose the South in the fight against the British. They chose, of course, to unite against the British. Samuel Johnson, the British writer, noted the incongruity when he sarcastically asked "how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"
Lepore, however, notes that the modern Tea Party sees none of this nuance and conflict.
But it wasn't the whiteness of the Tea Party that I found most striking. It was the whiteness of their Revolution. The founding Fathers were the whites of their eyes, a fantasy of an America before race, without race. There were very few black people in the Tea Party, but there are no black people at all in the Tea Party's eighteenth century. Nor for that matter, were there any women, aside from Abigail Adams, and no slavery, poverty, ignorance, insanity, sickness or misery. Nor was there any art, literature, sex, pleasure or humor. There were only the Founding Fathers with their white wigs, wearing their three-cornered hats, in their Christian nation, revolting against taxes, and defending their right to bear arms.To a certain degree, Lepore sees the historical profession at fault for this. Historians are often criticized for writing only for other historians, and avoiding the broad narrative in favor of the issues of race, class and gender, and to a degree, rightly so.
But as Lepore notes, that criticism comes from inside the profession as well, and that fact alone reveals the difference between the Tea Party's non-history and the rational world.
Scholars criticize and argue--and must, and can--because scholars share a common set of ideas about how to argue, and what counts as evidence. But the far right's American history--its antihistory--existed outside of argument and had no interest in evidence. It was as much a fiction as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, reductive, unitary, and, finally, dangerously antipluralist. It erased slavery from American history and compressed a quarter century of political contest into "the founding," as if ideas worked out, over decades of debate and fierce disagreement, were held by everyone, from the start. "Who's your favorite Founder?" Glenn Beck asked Sarah Palin. "Um, you know, well," she said. "All of them."Lepore says it better than I ever could, but I always find this kind of Disney history sad. The past is so complex and so interesting and this rewriting blanches it into nothingness, and turns complicated people into cardboard figures. And when they then base public policy on that fake past, then we all lose.
There was though, something heartbreaking in all this. Behind the Tea Party's Revolution lay nostalgia for an imagined time--the 1950s, maybe, of the 1940s--less riven by strife, less troubled by conflict, less riddled with ambiguity, less divided by race. In that nostalgia was the remembrance of childhood, a yearning for a common past, bulwark against a divided present, comfort against an uncertain future." (96-97)