During a conversation about race and the Tea Party last week, Conor Friedersdorf insisted that the whole "Real Americans" trope had nothing to do with race, because the definition of who is a "Real American" also includes contempt for an arbitrary category of white liberals. What constitutes a "Real American" is not completely fixed, but suffice it to say that if a person of color wants access to the definition they need to purchase it through an elaborate gesture of loyalty such as the one the Hispanic Tea Party speaker offered in that Charles Blow piece when she told the audience she wasn't one of "those" freeloading Latinos. Even if the individual is accepted, the underlying assumptions about the ethnic group they belong to remain unquestioned.
At any rate, nothing makes clear how racially related the definition of "Real American" is than the complete lack of concern from Tea Partiers over the recently signed draconian immigration law in Arizona, which essentially makes it illegal to be Latino and walk around the state without carrying one's birth certificate. Steve Benen concludes that "it's almost as if the right-wing crowd is only offended by government abuses when they're imaginary." But this isn't accurate. It's not that government abuses need to be imaginary; it's that they have a narrow definition of what constitutes "government abuse" that largely depends on the target.
That is, as long as a law is seen as an expansion of the social safety net or a form of progressive taxation, it's seen as an abuse of power because it's directed at "Real Americans." A payroll tax cut is "welfare," the Affordable Care Act is "reparations," etc. Those whites who facilitate this transfer through their liberal politics (the liberal "elites") sacrifice their "Real Americanness." It has been thus since Richard Nixon. Directing the full force of unrestricted government power in the form of torture, indefinite detention without trial, police brutality, or racial profiling, however, is acceptable to these "Real Americans" precisely because the presumed targets, not being "Real Americans," have no real right not to be abused. They barely have a claim to the country, if at all. It's not an abuse of government power as long as it's not directed at the rather specific demographic group that makes up the Tea Parties. It's obvious from his writings that Friedersdorf himself doesn't believe this, but as he can explain he's something of an outcast when it comes to conservatism today.
But look, this is all a pretty complicated explanation for what the numbers already tell you. Any movement that claims to represent "Real Americans" but is 98 percent white is by definition going to have a definition of Americanness that is partially defined by race. Whether you call them "Real Americans" or "The Silent Majority," we all know what we're really talking about. Pat Buchanan's saving grace is that he's always had the stones to give the state of things without equivocation or evasion, without grasping for the plausible deniability of putting a few nonwhite speakers on the stage in order to foster the perception of diversity.
-- A. Serwer
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