The protests began immediately upon the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. Stunned by an election defeat they did not see coming; the far reaches of the Left reacted by taking to the streets in a brat fit seldom seen in American politics.
The temper tantrum has not subsided.
In the weeks and months since the 2016 Presidential election celebrities have vented on award shows, the aggrieved (even those who don’t know why they are aggrieved) have taken to the streets, to airports and even to the gates of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Lacking any discernible set of principles let alone a strategy for implementing them, it seems the only tactic remaining is for powerless Left wingers to complain – and to do so loudly.
The pending repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act – which turned out to be not so affordable – has sent protesters scurrying to town hall meetings held by various Republican members of congress. This has given rise to comparisons to the grassroots TEA party movement that gained considerable influence early in the Obama presidency.
But this is not your father’s TEA party. The differences between the TEA party movement of the Right and what we see happening today transcend mere ideology. The TEA party movement is reviled by the Left precisely because it occupies that sweet spot in American politics that brings together conservatives and much of the center. Its goals are clear; its principles are strongly rooted in the nation’s history and culture; and at its core it presents an optimistic vision for the future.
The effectiveness of the TEA party scared the bejesus out of the Obama Administration to the point it began using government power, namely the Internal Revenue Service, to hinder and harass development of the movement. Efforts at countering the TEA party surge with a hapless group loosely known as the Occupy movement ended up being nothing more than an opportunity for frustrated campers to spend a few weeks in public parks.
The week after the Presidential inauguration and the so-called "women’s march" protests that followed I was in Washington, D.C. As I sat at a downtown restaurant awaiting a breakfast meeting I struck up a conversation with the server and commented that the previous week must have been exciting. The expression on his face changed to one of anger as he recounted how protesters had smashed out the windows of the restaurant causing it to have to close for a day. For him that meant a day of lost wages.
This illustrates a key difference between the TEA party movement and what is happening today on the American Left. TEA partiers did not vandalize buildings and set fire to cars. Protesters opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline, apparently lacking in employment, spent weeks in an encampment. When they left litter and debris was strewn across acres of formerly pristine land. TEA party activists are respectful of public places, value private property and channeled their anger into policy reform.
And the TEA party movement is about free speech and helping average Americans make their voices heard in the halls of government. The current blob of Left wing protesters seeks to stifle free speech. They have kept conservatives from speaking at college campuses and even blocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from entering a public school. This is a favorite tactic of the Left: when you can’t win the argument, prevent the other side from arguing.
Then there are the optics. When the TEA party rallies you see American and Gadsden flags, not women parading about town wearing hats replicating their private parts. Americans in the persuadable middle of the political spectrum are not going to be swayed on policy matters by violence and pornographic head wear. If a rally or protest looks like a Barnum & Bailey sideshow, then it won’t be taken seriously by average Americans who are looking only for family sustaining jobs for themselves and better educational opportunities for their children.
No, the endless protests are not going to morph into a TEA party of the Left. Rather what you have is a pity party thrown by a group of people with nothing to offer but footage to fill the screens of the mainstream news media.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.