racism has always been at the heart of the American Right, from the days of southern Anti-Federalists sensing an existential threat to slavery, through Southern secession after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, to the Ku Klux Klan’s resistance to black liberation and Reconstruction, to decades of Jim Crow laws, segregation and lynching, to anger over the federal government’s forced integration in the mid-Twentieth Century, to the Tea Party’s inchoate fury against America’s demographic changes personified by the first African-American president.
On Wednesday, when Tea Partiers donned their tri-corner caps and rallied against immigration reform on Capitol Hill, it was a Hispanic who suffered the brunt of their fury. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was treated as their own Benedict Arnold, a traitor to the movement who dared promote legislation that would open a pathway to citizenship for many of the nation’s 12 million undocumented workers.
The Tea Partiers’ hatred of what they call “amnesty” is best understood as a recognition that many of those new citizens would have brown skin and likely vote Democratic, thus further diluting white power in the United States. That fear is reflected, too, in the Right’s systematic efforts to make voting harder across the country and to continue denying the District of Columbia any congressional representation.
Anyone can figure out that if Washington D.C. were populated by white conservative Republicans, rather than many people of color and liberal Democrats, the cause of D.C. representation would be a matter of “principle” for the Tea Party. There is no clearer case in America of people suffering under a key grievance of the Revolution: “no taxation without representation.”
However, given the dark-skin demographics and political leanings of the District’s population, Tea Partiers come to Washington to decry “taxation with representation” for themselves while caring nothing about “taxation without representation” for District citizens. The Tea Partiers wave their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, but don’t demand seats in Congress for the people who live here.
With similar hypocrisy, the Right has rewritten the nation’s Founding narrative, an undertaking that has met little resistance from mainstream commentators who either don’t know the history themselves or don’t think the fight is worth having. Yet, ceding the historical narrative to the Right has meant that many Americans now think they are following the guideposts that the Framers left behind when they are actually being led in the opposite direction.
Leading the way in the years after independence, Washington and Madison wanted a unified nation that addressed the country’s practical needs and overcame the rivalries among the states. “Thirteen sovereignties,” Washington wrote, “pulling against each other, and all tugging at the federal head, will soon bring ruin to the whole.”