When a crisis occurs in America, the subject of government preparedness always comes to the forefront of the conversation. We’ve seen it happen with the responses to natural disasters from Hurricanes Katrina to Maria to the floods in the midwest and wildfires out West. Despite these discussions, the concept of small government — as viewed by far-right conservatives — and the negative impacts of such domestic policy are routinely overlooked.
As America comes to grips with the idea that the United States is grossly unprepared to handle the current crisis, it seems that people have yet to realize that our lack of preparedness is not entirely Trump’s fault. It’s the result of the far-right small government Trump is a part of. It’s easy to blame the guy in the White House, but the bigger picture is much more nefarious.
The far-right concept of small government is more about who benefits from taxpayer dollars than it is about limiting the power of government. When Barack Obama declared he was running for president, America’s racial indifference came bubbling to the surface like the malignant festering pustule that it is; manifesting itself as the racism of old. I know what you’re thinking, but racism absolutely plays a role in this type of fiscal conservatism.
Allow me to explain.
For the last several decades, conservative extremists have been the driving force behind the Republican party. A party that decided long ago that they didn’t need the Black vote and is just fine with alienating approximately 70% of the Latino vote. By betting on the white working-class, the party realized the benefits of not quelling but amplifying the racial fears of many white voters.
More recently, the Tea Party, a far-right faction of the Republican Party, became quite disruptive in American politics. Through the promotion of their so-called fiscal conservatism, and with help from huge Libertarian lobby groups such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) founded by David and Charles Koch, they achieved great gains in the far-right conservative consolidation of power using racial hostility as their primary tool.
AFP saw an opportunity with the Tea Party and quickly helped it transform into a powerful political authority. They helped organize the opposition to the Obama administration’s initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), climate change regulation, Medicaid expansion, and the economic stimulus package. They also advocated for limiting the collective-bargaining power of trade unions, anti-union right-to-work laws, and their opposition to raising the minimum wage.
In following the tenets of the AFP, Republicans have been largely focused on what they call fiscal responsibility by cutting taxes, reducing regulations of businesses, and limiting the power of the courts. While a spokesman from Koch Industries says the Koch companies do not direct the activities of AFP, many journalists argue that AFP’s policy positions align with the Koch’s business interests because of its support for rescinding energy regulations and environmental restrictions; expanding domestic energy production; lowering taxes; and reducing government spending by cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
AFP was arguably the most influential political group in 2016 and is now one of just 15 groups that account for three-quarters of anonymous cash flowing into United States elections.
Tea Party Racism
Prior to the corporate takeover of the grassroots group, Tea Party members expressed that their opposition to big government entailed an unwillingness to pay taxes that help people they view as undeserving freeloaders such as immigrants, lower-income earners, and young folks. At the national level, the wealth behind the Tea Party leveraged the grassroots energy to further their own longstanding goals such as tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and the privatization of the Social Security and Medicare programs many grassroots tea partiers depend on.
The extremist nature of the Tea Party began to coalesce as a movement made up of far-right ideologues, hate groups, Christian extremists, and every other far-right opportunist who thought they would ride the populist wave of the Tea Party for a quick buck. While the Tea Party may have fractured since then, and their corporate overlords no longer represent the issues of the grassroots movement, the aligned factions that make up the movement are still out there.
The largely racist anti-Obama nature of the Tea Party membership had to go somewhere after 2016 when he would no longer be in office. All of that racism, disgust, and hate that reared its ugly head during Obama’s two terms found a new home in Donald Trump. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve been dog-whistled into transforming their anti-Obama hate into blatant racism, xenophobia, and intolerance that has translated into a rise in hate crimes across the country.
We have to remember that in 2009 when elite, big-money advocacy groups jumped in feet-first with the Tea Party, they did so on face value. The research on the regular tea partiers back then showed that their anger was primarily about the kinds of people getting specific types of public spending. Aside from claiming Obama was a socialist because of the ACA, tea partiers also believed the ACA would benefit undocumented immigrants.
One of the main issues driving the Tea Party movement was their collective xenophobia towards immigrants of color. Something that has become abundantly clear under Trump. Many of the lies about immigration that are present today are the result of nasty Tea Party rhetoric — other tropes have been floating around for over a century.
In the late 2000s, tea partiers grossly and purposely overestimated the numbers of how many undocumented immigrants were in the United States to help them drive fear and loathing of the Latino population in America. Their movement is clearly based on fear of the inevitable racial changes coming to the U.S. in the near future. They invoke baseless anxieties about immigrants and Latinos, about Black folks in inner cities, and in many cases, the Christian extremist faction pushes false narratives seeking laws against homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights.
This is a group that has since evolved to be known by the man they idolize.
Their willingness to spend trillions of dollars on corporate tax cuts and bailouts out under Trump, after raising hell when Obama did the same thing with a lot less money, pretty much speaks for itself. Now, tea partiers and the politicians they elected have moved on from fiscal conservatism (read: Obama hate) to continuing the rich history of conservative xenophobia and racism.
The type of populism that Donald Trump brings to the table provided a home for those who were once terrified of the thought of living under a Black president. The Tea Party birthed modern-day white nationalism which found a hero in Trump. They provided Christian extremists with a path to promote their utopian theocracy through the White House. They gave heroes of the far-right a place among mainstream society; giving rise to the normalization of hate.
So when you see or hear Trump’s “us versus them; immigrants of color are bad; Nazis are good people; Black folks are sons of bitches,” rhetoric, you know where the influence comes from.
Libertarian policies play heavily into the Tea Party narrative. Despite the racism that Libertarians are unresponsive to, the corporate overlords of the group are those who dictate policy. While the group is all but non-existent on the grassroots level anymore, there are Tea Party Republicans still in office. They have largely diverted from their original intent, but they remain divisive and politically extreme.
Despite opposing Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA), the $787 billion economic stimulus package that ended the Great Recession in 2009, Republicans have since felt confident throwing trillions of dollars around for corporate tax-breaks and bailouts for their biggest buddies on Wall Street using enough money to fund healthcare for two years or more.
But to dig even deeper, we wouldn’t be here if not for the regulatory rollbacks; the defunding and shuttering of the pandemic programs in the U.S. and abroad; and the unwillingness to respond to what economists and health experts have all warned us about for years; that the economy was weak and a pandemic was inevitable. Instead, we’ve been going backward because of the influence of a Libertarian regime who largely funds the Republican Party with billions of dollars while trying to achieve smaller government.
Under Trump, the United States has seen more regulatory rollbacks than at any other time in history. Trump himself boasted about removing regulations that took us back sixty-years and the corporate thugs behind the whitewashed concept of small government couldn’t be more thrilled.
In fact, far-right conservatives are playing the politics of division so well that their most ardent supporters are blinded by their hate for the Black and Brown straw-men that they’re willing to let anything go regardless of how much it adversely affects them. A proposition confounding many Americans for decades.
The ideas that once inspired the Tea Party have been broadly abandoned by Republicans under Trump. Trillion-dollar deficits are on track to keep growing, the Affordable Care Act has yet to be repealed and Republicans admit it may never be. Republicans did what Republicans do when they have the taxpayers’ unlimited checkbook. They spend a ton of money on tax breaks for their buddies while looking to cut social programs to pay for them.
Their idea of small government means destroying social programs by minimizing our tax revenue via corporate tax breaks and choking programs out with less funding. This fits right in with the Libertarian cause on behalf of corporate interests. Portraying the Libertarian cause as one of “small government equals freedom” is a strategy to manipulate voters with an extreme agenda of crippling the government’s power to regulate corporations, banks, and industry.
After electing dozens of Tea Party Republicans to Congress in 2008, voters watched one promise after another go unfulfilled. Then, when Donald Trump entered the picture with promises that fit the tea partiers’ ideology and a whole new type of populism, they would propel him into the White House. It was easy for them to put their faith in the man who not just represented their beliefs but voiced his displeasure of non-white folks in a way they had never heard a politician speak before. And they love it.
These folks you now refer to as Trumpers were once tea-partiers. They brought outrage politics to the mainstream because of the mere thought of living under a Black president.
The outrage style that the Tea Party brought to American politics in the late 2000s was the beginning of what we’re experiencing today. In Trump, the movement found their champion who is temperamentally suited to their way of practicing politics. Although he cares little for the Tea Party’s founding ideas, conservatives follow his lead because he speaks to their racial anxieties, and in fact, amplifies them sowing chaos and discord across the country.
The Tea Party’s style of politics continues to define the country today. Their strategy worked well by igniting a return to the mistrust in government and the politics of outrage. Bringing life to the far-right populist passions of conservative extremists while alienating minorities, women, and even moderate Republicans. It’s been the conservative winning strategy since the 1970s. They’ve simply continued expanding on it.
Tea Party conservatives thrive on the belief that smaller government is better until we start talking about cutting the programs they benefit from. If any of their political beliefs were truly about fiscal conservatism, there are thousands of places they can cut funds from that aren’t FEMA, the CDC, the FDA, the VA, TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, or any other social programs that many Americans depend on.
Cutting social programs doesn’t make for small government. It kills people.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd who started his career in writing after suffering a stroke at the age of 40. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three young men. He is also a regular contributor to Latino Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here see the links below or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.