Sometimes I forget what originally drove me to call for a tea party protest in St. Louis.
One motivation was fear of missing out because a dozen other cities were planning protests. Another driver was a desire change the direction of the country. And at least some of it was the frustrated actor in me looking for an outlet.
Since two-thirds of those motivations appeal only to me, let’s focus on the middle one: change the country.
If we wanted to change the country, we have to answer obvious questions:
- From what?
- To what end?
I’ll try to unpack those two questions and show why Tuesday’s election means the Tea Party’s mission is almost complete.
Here are the RealClearPolitics afternoon headlines from Thursday, February 19, 2009: Mr. President, Enough with Doomsday Talk - Mark McKinnon, Daily Beast Fixing Our Housing Crisis - Tim Geithner & Shaun Donovan, USA Today People Don't Want to Pay Their Neighbor's Mortgage - Rick Santelli, CNBC How the World Sees Obama - Joe Klein, Time My Response to the Attorney General - Bill Willingham, Big Hollywood Welcome to Canada, Mr. President! - Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail The RAT Hiding Inside Stimulus Bill - Byron York, Washington Examiner Time for a Global Stimulus - Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect **Durban II: High-Level Diplomacy? **- Rick Richman, Commentary Paterson's Bumpy Road - Kyle Trygstad, RealClearPolitics
Stimulus, bailouts, doomsday talk.
As we saw it back then, the expert elites screwed up the world and they wanted us to pay for it. TARP and Stimulus were code words for wealth redistribution. This time, though, we taxed the poor to make the wealthiest people whole.
When Obama announced plans to bail out people upside-down on their mortgages, we’d had enough.
That first Nationwide Chicago Tea Party Protest was the plebes first warning shot across the elitist’s bow.
The “from what” was a world run poorly by a select few. Years later, Peggy Noonan named that select few: “the protected.”
To What End?
From the first moment of the tea party movement, we struggled to answer this question. “To what end?” my friend Lee Presser asked me over lunch. “You’ve started this movement, Bill,” he said. “You need to tell people what the world will look like when you succeed.”
Lee was right, of course. Every movement must work toward something. We needed a way to measure our progress toward a goal.
Just saying “no” will work for only so long. Eventually, someone would demand to know our solution. At least our vision.
Many tea partiers said “constitutionally limited government,” but no one can draw a picture of one. And, frankly, no one really cares about government. We care about the part of life separate from government. We wanted more of that non-government life and less government. But “less government” is a bad answer because it doesn't anwer the question most people ask.
To people like me, less government means something good. To someone on disability and SSI, less government means something scary and dangerous. And, while we, on the right, have high confidence that those welfare recipients will find a way to survive without government programs, the people dependent on those programs often have less confidence in themselves.
For years, we struggled to paint a picture of “Tea Party America.” We failed. We all failed. As a result, the tea party movement fractured. Some went on to media careers. Some got elected. Most of us worked on smaller tasks, like municipal court reform.
Then, a New York billionaire did our jobs for us.
To Make America Great Again
The answer to “to what?” came from a simple slogan: make America great again. And it came, not from a tea party leader, but from a billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star. Donald Trump finally painted a simple picture for the people Peggy Noonan calls “the unprotected.”
As Ms. Noonan writes today:
Those who come to this space know why I think what happened, happened. The unprotected people of America, who have to live with Washington’s policies, rebelled against the protected, who make and defend those policies and who care little if at all about the unprotected. That broke bonds of loyalty and allegiance. Tuesday was in effect an uprising of the unprotected. It was part of the push-back against detached elites that is sweeping the West and was seen most recently in the Brexit vote.
The tea party was the uprising of the unprotected. Over the first two years of that uprising, we lost our focus as we groped for the answer to the “to what?” question. The answer that seemed most appealing came from the Constitution experts. Ted Cruz became their hero. They pushed Constitution study groups.
But all that academic talk about the Constitution bored the unprotected. As I wrote in 2015, most people don’t know they have a Constitution problem—they think they have an income problem. Our 10th Amendment arguments didn’t pay their rent. Most of all, they didn’t want someone or something to pay their rent; they wanted to earn enough to pay it themselves.
Then along came Trump. “We’re gonna make America great again, folks. We’re gonna do it. Believe me. It’ll be beautiful.”
How would we do this?
“We’re going to bring your jobs back. Good factory jobs.”
“Law and order.”
“We’re going to build the wall, and it will be beautiful. And Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me.”
And Trump said more.
Trump Answers the Question
While the media perseverated on a few controversial tweets and comments, Trump spoke to the people who built and build America. Trump spoke in simple, truthful words:
I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either.
So we really need jobs now. We have to take jobs away from other countries because other countries are taking our jobs. There is practically not a country that does business with the United States that isn't making - let's call it a very big profit. I mean China is going to make $300 billion on us at least this year.
When I am president, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself, ‘Does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson, who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child America?’
Our politicians are stupid. And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don't want to pay for them. They don't want to take care of them. Why should they when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them?
Our military has to be strengthened. Our vets have to be taken care of. We have to end Obamacare, and we have to make our country great again, and I will do that.
I own buildings. I'm a builder; I know how to build. Nobody can build like I can build. Nobody. And the builders in New York will tell you that. I build the best product. And my name helps a lot.
The problems we face now - poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them in the first place.
We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again.
There it is, my friends. Donald Trump answered Lee Presser’s question, “to what end?”
I’ve said many, many times that throughout our charmed history, God has always given us the President we needed and deserved. If you can get beyond party and ideology, Bill Clinton fit the 1990s the way Ronald Reagan fit the 1980s. Jimmy Carter was the embodiment of the mid-1970s, and his failed president made Reagan possible. In time, I think we’ll see that Barack Obama made Donald Trump possible.
Possible. But Donald Trump and the tea party put Trump into office. I realize some tea partiers opposed Trump. That’s beside the point. Some conservatives like George F. Will opposed Reagan. The tea party movement was not monolithic.
But if you go back to day one of the tea party, February 27, 2009, and you look at the faces and fashion of the people who gathered on the steps of the Arch, you will see Trump’s people.
Donald Trump gave us the vision that eluded me and all the other tea party leaders. Maybe we were too knowledgable and tried to craft a clever vision.
Trump’s vision was simple: make America great again.
That’s all it took and all that matters. We just wanted to make America great again.
God bless and keep President-elect Trump.