Have groups like the Tea Party soiled the word “Patriot” beyond repair?

we-need-an-actual-teabagger-emoticon-someone-please-fix-this-one-for-submission-to-hans-3130I think it is legitimate to ask this question. Conservative groups like the Tea Party “Patriots” and the Sov Cit “Patriot” movement love to use the word to refer to themselves. Some of the first Tea Party demonstrators in 2009 even wore tri-corner hats adorned with tea bags hanging from them. (Some called themselves teabaggers but dropped the term when they learned it had another meaning.) [See COMALiteJ’s comment below. It seems at least some in the movement knew the raunchy meaning of the term and used it to describe what they were going to do to some politicians and liberals.]

So just what is a patriot? Merriam Webster tells us the word “patriot” is derived from the Medieval French patriote for “compatriot”, Latin patriota, and ultimately from the Greek term patria from pater or patr- meaning father or male lineage. It defines patriot as “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests“.

During the American war for independence the term Patriot came to be used to refer to the colonists who rebelled against Great Britain. They were first referred to as Whigs or Patriot Whigs because they politically aligned with the Whig Party in England. This was as opposed to the Loyalists or Tories who favored remaining under British rule.

Thus “patriot” and “patriotism” acquired a somewhat uniquely American meaning over the years. It referred to pride and support for America and its democratic values. Patriotism was strongest when America and our freedoms were under threat. No one would dispute that patriotism was at a peak during World War I and even more so during Word War II. These were times we put away our petty differences and got behind our country as one. Everyone was willing to sacrifice. Hundreds of thousands paid the ultimate sacrifice.

So what happened to patriotism and how did the word “patriot” get hijacked by  conservative right wing political ideologues? Walter Rodgers wrote about this in his 2010 article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled The right wing’s perversion of patriotism.

Rodgers wrote:

It once was a given that you did not discuss religion or politics in polite company. To this list, I would add “patriotism.” It has become the new secular American religion, so mercurial that we cannot even agree about what it is.

It is regrettable that a once healthy American patriotism has morphed into intolerant jingoism. Love of country has been hijacked.

It once was a given that you did not discuss religion or politics in polite company. To this list, I would add “patriotism.” It has become the new secular American religion, so mercurial that we cannot even agree about what it is.

It is regrettable that a once healthy American patriotism has morphed into intolerant jingoism. Love of country has been hijacked. …

How did a quiet “love of country” morph into an aggressive right-wing, warlike chauvinism?

Indeed.

I think the hijacking of the term “patriot” can be traced to the 1960’s and the Vietnam era. America found itself involved in the most unpopular war in history and a young generation of baby boomers went to the streets to protest. Their parents, who came from the World War II generation, reacted in horror as the younger generation rejected the notion of “my country right or wrong” and openly questioned authority on many fronts.

As it turned out we know the younger generation was right about the war in Vietnam. Their government was lying to them and knew it was unwinnable. No matter though. The backlash to the anti-war movement provided a winning strategy for the Republican party beginning with Nixon and continuing to this day. They hijacked patriotism and the symbols if patriotism as their own. If you were against them you were somehow unpatriotic.

I can remember one particularly gaudy display of this strategy during the 1988 campaign when then Vice President Bush held a campaign rally at a flag factory in New Jersey. Talk about “wrapping yourself in the flag”.

In 2009 following the inauguration of President Obama something called the Tea Party movement arose. There is now a good bit of evidence the Tea Party movement was not a grass roots movement as it portrayed itself but instead was an AstroTurf movement funded in part by the Koch brothers.

Many Tea Party groups began calling themselves Tea Party Patriots. There web pages were full of references to the American Patriots from the revolutionary war days. Of course the name they chose referred to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, which was a reaction to the Tea Act. The modern Tea Party members adopted the name because they saw themselves as “anti-tax” like those who dumped 342 crates of tea from three ships into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773.

However, like many things the modern Tea Party would get it wrong. The original tea party protesters were in effect protesting corporate welfare. The Tea Act that they were protesting against gave a huge tax break to the failing East India Tea Company (probably the original “too big to fail” corporate entity). This tax advantage was opposed by American tea merchants and smugglers like John Hancock who helped start the revolt. None other than George Washington opposed the Boston Tea Party and other “tea parties” that were subsequently carried out.

It was not the tea party but the British [over] reaction to the tea party that subsequently drove some of the colonists to take up arms against the Crown. Parliament passed a series of laws that the colonists referred to as the Intolerable Acts, which reduced or removed the power of self government in Massachusetts in reaction to the tea party vandalism. Thus the first tea party movement was more about self government than taxes.

So who are these Tea Party “Patriots” and are they really more patriotic than all the rest of us? The Tea Party has never been distinguishable from the right wing of the Republican Party. It is an amorphous movement with no central leadership other than the commonality of a handful of conservative groups funding them. They are primarily white middle and upper class Republicans who want lower taxes and small government. They hated Barack Obama and the diversity in American politics that he represented. As a matter of fact many of them were Obama Birthers. They despise the less fortunate, especially minorities. They are largely conservative Christians and believe in the Biblical view of creation over science.

In general they are anti-science and anti intellectual. The don’t believe climate change is real. They think that left to their own designs corporations will protect the environment. They think that universities are teaching their children to be liberals. They are anti-immigration and especially against immigration from non-western European countries. They believe the economy is much worse than it really is. They believe in conspiracy theories like Birtherism even when not supported by any facts at all.

They form the core group of Donald Trump’s support. They were the first block of Republicans to back Trump. They overlook or even applaud his ties with Russia because they think Putin is a strong leader. They support Trump’s attack on the press and the First Amendment because they think the media is corrupt. They ignore the fact that the reality is that most of the media is right leaning and had a great deal to do with destroying Hillary Clinton for imagined crimes and permitting Donald Trump to squeak through in the electoral college while losing the popular vote.

They believe women should be subservient to men because that is how they interpret the Bible.  That is why they put up with Trump’s debasing statements about women. They strongly oppose women’s rights and probably secretly admire Trump’s use of women as objects of pleasure.

They claim to believe in small government but believe the state has a right to control a woman’s reproductive system and prevent gun manufacturers from being sued.

So are these folks more patriotic than the rest of us? I think the answer is obvious. They have hijacked and dirtied the term to the point that it may be beyond salvation. I think it is worth trying though. A good start is pointing out that the Tea Partiers are not patriots. They are political hacks.

[Edit: I meant to close with this thought. A good rule to follow is that if someone has to call themselves a patriots over and over it is a good bet they are not. ]

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6 Responses to Have groups like the Tea Party soiled the word “Patriot” beyond repair?

  1. COMALite J says:

    Excellent article! But a bit of a correction is in order:

    (Some called themselves “teabaggers” but dropped the term when they learned it had another meaning.)

    No, that’s not quite how it happened. The real story is sooo much lulzier.

    • Thanks for the correction. I never knew that any of the “Teabaggers” knew the meaning of the term as used in the game playing world. I know my son who is into computer games knew what it meant was was laughing about it. I would still guess that most of the people sending teabags to the Congressmen still had no idea though. I don’t think President Obama did either.

  2. rantalbott says:

    Excellent analysis and commentary. One wording I would change is that they believe women should be subservient to men, and the fact that so many are not is another reality driving their anger.

    I don’t think “patriot” is beyond repair, yet. There was some battling over its misuse after 9/11, and I see a good possibility that the battle will be rejoined as we get into national debates over foreign policy, if the Trump faction tries to play that card. There was just a little bit of a flurry when Spicer tried to say “You’re dishonoring Ryan Owens if you question the Yemen raid”. But Trump isn’t just a continuous “font” of outrages: he’s a “firehose”. So the nation may not stay on a single topic long enough to hash that out 😉

    • rantalbott

      Thank you for your fine suggestion. I made that change.

      I could have mentioned some examples of where the Tea Party put “party” ahead of “country”. Some of the more egregious ones were the battles over raising the debt ceiling in Congress. In August 2011 the silly standoff caused the S&P to lower the credit rating of the United States below AAA for the first time in history. This was the antithesis of patriotism. The cost of this one act to taxpayers is untold billions and damaged the image of the country for years.

      The debt ceiling raises were needed to cover spending that Congress had already approved and not about new spending. To take the country to the brink of default was both fiscally and morally irresponsible. I think that is when it first dawned on me that the Tea Party Republicans were perfectly willing to damage the country to get their way.

  3. Northland10 says:

    Thus the first tea party movement was more about self government than taxes.

    As was the revolution. It was the arrogance of Parliment and the Crown that pushed us to go independent. I have attempted to explain this to birthers and tea partiers for the last eight years. It fell on deaf ears.

    The cry was not “No taxation” but “No taxation without representation.”

  4. Another word the ultra right has hijacked is “Freedom” as in “Freedom Caucus” and “Freedom Friday”. The are the bunch who used to call themselves the “Tea Party caucus. They include mostly loony ultra right wing anti-government nihilists. Has anyone ever tried to call Crazy Carl and correct him? You don’t last very long.

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