Remember the Tea Party? If you don’t, they were a movement that sprang up in the mid-2000s. I want to say they were in reaction to Obama’s election, but I may be misremembering. At any rate, they were a group of radical conservatives who caused a hell of a lot of trouble.
I was attending a small liberal arts college in the suburbs of Chicago. One of my good friends was living in Aurora at the time and had gotten a speeding ticket on his commute. He had to go to the courthouse in order to pay for this ticket and had asked if I wanted to go with him. It was a beautiful spring day and I had nothing better to do, so I said yes. (I mean, I probably should have been studying, but it was my birthday!) The drive took probably forty-five minutes. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what town we were in, it wasn’t one that I have been too since, though.
We parked a couple of blocks away and as we walked up, we noticed the gathering crowd. A group passed up carrying signs with anti-government sayings and I got a little giddy. When we got up to the courthouse, we saw the stage setup and a group of people standing around. My friend went inside to pay his ticket and I waited outside.
I wish I could remember what the speaker was saying, because it was hilariously inane. When my friend came back out, I made him take a picture with my pre-2011 cell phone as a memento of the craziness.
It was honestly one of the best things that happened to me on my birthday that year. Of course, in retrospect it all gets a little darker. The Tea Party was almost certainly the inroad a lot of the crazier conservative talk show hosts rode in on. Glenn Beck was a HUGE Tea Party fanatic, for example. And I would argue that the tolerance the GOP gave the Tea Party is how we ended up with Trump. The “base” was riled up by these nuts and moved more and more right.
Now, I’m not saying that all Tea Party members were violent neo-Nazi, white supremacist types. But bunches of them were. In the Obama era, it was often the Tea Party rallies that had images of the President being lynched, being referred to as a Muslim (or Muslin in some cases), or being depicted as a monkey.
And when none of that was deemed over the line or unacceptable, it became normal. Then more radical behavior followed and was allowed to continue.
If only it could have been stopped when everyone still thought it was funny…