Dear Tea Party

5 08 2011

Dear Tea Party,

you claim to defend America. You claim that your whole raison d’etre is to defend our country from freeloaders and socialists. Well, I have some bad news for you. You are the ones who are damaging America.

We are a large society. In a large society, people have differing opinions. We are also a free society. In a free society, people are allowed to have differing opinions. People are even allowed to live by their differing opinions and beliefs, to the extent that it doesn’t hurt someone else or infringe on an other’s liberties. That’s the goal, anyway. On top of that, we are ostensibly a self-governed society, meaning that we the people have a say in how we are governed. Getting a society to function that is large, free, and self-governed is miraculous. It never functions quite like anyone wants it to, but in America we come closer to the ideal than many countries, thanks largely to the Constitution.

You are standing in the way of this ideal. You represent a small minority of the population, and through belligerence and intransigence you seek to impose your will on the rest of us. With the debt ceiling debate, you succeeded. You held the country hostage, blocking a measure that is routinely taken to prevent economic catastrophe, and demanded an extreme right approach to the national debt, with no concessions to the center, let alone the left. You won. Congratulations, you broke America.

You silenced the voices of your fellow citizens who elected the president and the majority of congress. Your fellow citizens, who work just as hard as you do, who love their families just as much, who struggle with all the same  home budgets and job insecurities and personal tragedies, who strive for the same simple measure of contentment, were all summarily kicked out of the clubhouse because of you. Is that your vision of America? Because it certainly wasn’t the founding fathers’.

I know you feel that you’re the victim, that taxes are too high and thus infringing on your liberty. But in a large, free, and self-governed society, you don’t get to decide taxes all by yourself. We decide together. You don’t get to ram through what you feel is the right choice, no matter how convinced you are of everyone else’s ignorance or corruption or both. You have to argue your case. You have to present the facts and convince people you are right; you don’t get to just yell and scream and steamroller your way through. You have to work with people of opposing views, and try to find common ground. It’s an excruciating process, but it’s the only way for the majority of a large society to remain free and self-governed. The alternative is tyranny.

I know I’m simplifying and idealizing. There are a million systemic obstacles to true reform, a million ways we are all disenfranchised. But you can’t build a legitimate free society by trampling on the views of others. Your vision for our country is out of step with the majority of the population. That doesn’t mean there’s no place for you at the table. There is a place for everybody. That’s the whole point. If you don’t allow your opponents to have their say, you have no business being in America.

 

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