On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. touched thousands of people with his unforgettable “I have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. In the face of discrimination against African Americans, more than 250.000 activists protested during the famous March on Washington. That very same day, in the very same place, another watershed moment occurred: The New York folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary sang a cover of “Blowin in the Wind”, forever adding Bob Dylan’s masterpiece to the canon of American protest music.
After the general introduction to Hochschild’s treatise last week, let us now pursue a deeper analysis. The “deep story” of the Tea Party movement in red states is a story through which its advocates pursue an “emotional self-interest” (in addition to an economic self-interest) as Hochschild emphasizes. Ironically, while her interviewees adamantly refuse to participate in what they consider a culture of victimization – meaning a culture that seeks to remedy systemic inequalities – populist white male politicians, such as Donald Trump, nevertheless provide them exactly with those empowering moments of identity politics that they reject in women, minorities, or refugees. As Hochschild puts it in her conclusion, although “victims” would be “the last word my Louisiana Tea Party friends would apply to themselves,” they are “sacrificial lambs to the entire American industrial system.” Hochschild’s use of quasi-religious terms is telling. She ascribes to Trump’s rallies a religious, cultic quality which, through invocations of “dominance, bravado, clarity, national pride, and personal uplift,” transforms the crowd’s sense of shame and alienation into feelings of elation and belonging. These concluding observations of Strangers in Their Own Land show the deeply troubling aspects of the Tea Party, most of all the manipulation of the masses through the promise of uplift, unity, and power in a way that uncannily resembles extremist, fascist ideologies.
In January 2017, I listened to an interview with UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild on National Public Radio about her New York Times bestseller. But it was not until a friend of mine recommended Strangers in Their Own Land that I actually read it. My friend commended the book less for a more informed understanding of the rise of the Tea Party and – by implication Trump – but rather for providing an empathetic, humane perspective of the supporters of the American conservative party, especially its populist right wing.
Imagine you get home and see a bunch of your friends, let’s say friends whose taste in films and shows you usually trust, watching a show. A really weird cartoon show you can’t make any sense of, because, let’s say, one of the show’s constantly burping characters turned himself into a talking pickle just to avoid a family counseling session. And suddenly the talking pickle calls itself “Pickle Rick” and slaughters giant rats in the sewer. You see your friends’ faces, their eyes fixed on the screen. Heartfelt laughter alternates with quiet curiosity. “In which world is this an actual show?!” you may ask yourself before you decide to sit down and give it a try… Read more
“I write emotive stories about Natives who have been absent in history.”
(Gerald Vizenor, personal interview)
Gerald Vizenor’s historical novel, Native Tributes, will be published in August 2018. And here is one important reason why you should read it: Native Tributes will encourage you to re-visit the aftermath of World War I – from a Native American perspective.
Erich Mühsam (1878-1934) was a German-Jewish antimilitarist anarchist essayist, poet, and playwright. I can check most of those boxes. I tried anarchy in my 20s; it didn’t fit. And while my maternal grandparents were German, I started life in New Jersey.
Since 2003, I have maintained my writing office, research library, and a small performance space in the same building in Berlin where Mühsam worked and lived with his wife Zenzl. Alt-Lietzow 12. There is a plaque dedicated to Mühsam beneath my window. His spirit is everywhere here. He sat where I sit. Climbed the steps I climb. Feared what I fear.