For all their faults, the Star Wars prequels ride on undercurrents of political insight. In Revenge of the Sith, there’s a moment when Padme Amidala tells her husband of growing doubts about their government. “Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?” she asks him. “What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?”
How Padme felt then mirrors how I feel now. Only my “republic” isn’t a galactic government. It’s a movement which drew me into political activism, a movement I championed and fought for relentlessly, which has now metastasized into the very thing it once opposed. Charles C. W. Cooke explains at National Review. Reacting to Sarah Palin’s recent endorsement of Donald Trump, he writes:
What, we might ask, has become of Palin’s beloved Tea Party? What, too, of her purported admiration for limited government, and of her ostensible hatred of heretics and fakers?… All that talk of the Constitution and the Declaration; all that energy expended against the cronies and the rent-seekers; all those purifying voter drives — and for what? So that Sarah Palin could add a few zeroes to her bank balance and Donald Trump could go from the purchaser to the bought? Today was the day that Rick Santelli’s famous yelp finally melted into populism and avarice. Today, at about ten minutes past six, P. T. Barnum beat out Hayek for the soul of the insurgent Right. Today, the rebels became the charlatans they had set out to depose. What comes next will be anybody’s guess.
It’s a fair point. As someone who has been intimately involved with the Tea Party from its inception, I feel confident claiming to know what the movement was once about. At no point throughout the past eight years would I have told you that the Tea Party was personified by Donald Trump. Sure, concern about immigration has been on the periphery. But it was never the dominant issue overriding all others.
The Tea Party used to be about “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets.” Now, the movement’s top media darling has enthusiastically endorsed a man who built his wealth on eminent domain and seeks to “make America great again” by restricting trade. Trump is a crony capitalist of the kind tea partiers once lamented in the wake of TARP and the big corporate bailouts. Author Corie W. Stephens puts it this way:
Both [Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders] believe in protectionism rather than the market on an international scale.
The truth is, there’s very little daylight between these two presidential candidates on economic matters. Trump and Sanders are both tried and true authoritarians whose views are antithetical to freedom and prosperity.
Yet here we are, witnessing Palin’s endorsement and the support of supposed conservatives from what Cooke calls “the insurgent Right.”
It all has the effect of legitimizing many of the worst accusations made against Republicans and tea partiers, that we’re all a bunch of jingoistic homogeneous xenophobic racists. For years, I stood as a black man within the movement to vehemently refute that claim. We’re about the Constitution, I claimed. We’re about free minds and free markets. We’re about each man’s sacred right to pursue his own happiness. We’re about seizing private property for personal gain.
It’s a little jarring when you throw it in there like that, isn’t it? And yet, here we are, effectively telling exactly that to the rest of the world. What the hell happened?