If you step back and take a look at this ugly landscape, what you will see is something akin to a new Jim Crow system, a sickening reprise of what happened the last time white supremacists saw their political and cultural dominance threatened in the years after the Civil War.
In the late 1860s and 1870s, the two parties were on the opposite sides of the racial-equality issue. Then, the Republicans pressed for a reconstruction of the South to assure civil rights for blacks. However, the Democrats, the old party of slavery, acted to frustrate, sabotage and ultimately defeat those efforts.
What the United States then got was nearly a century of racial segregation across large swaths of the country although most egregious in the South. It was not until the 1960s when the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson broke with the old traditions of collaborating with the Old Confederacy. These new Democrats instead supported civil rights legislation pushed by Martin Luther King Jr. and other advocates for racial equality.
However, opportunistic Republicans, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, saw an opening to flip the electoral map by snaking away the South's resentful white racists from the Democrats and locking them into the Republican Party. The maneuver -- cloaked in coded messages about states' rights and hostility toward the federal government -- proved astoundingly successful.
Still, the white supremacists faced a politically existential problem. They were demographically fading from their historic dominance, steadily replaced in numbers by Hispanics, Asian-Americans and blacks as well as by younger whites who viewed racial bigotry as a disgusting residue from the age-old crimes of slavery and segregation.
So what to do? Right-wing billionaires helped by pouring in vast sums to create a powerful right-wing propaganda machine, an ideological media unparalleled in American history. The loud voices and angry words from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch whipped up white grievances, but -- as the election and reelection of African-American Barack Obama showed -- more was needed.
The votes of non-whites and the young needed to be suppressed via manipulated election rules; the use of scientific gerrymandering had to be expanded to further devalue Democratic votes; obstructionism in Congress had to become the rule, not the exception.
Finally, it became clear that a de facto transformation of the constitutional system was needed to prevent the rule of this emerging -- and "undeserving" -- majority. Thus, government by extortion became the ultimate solution. [See Consortiumnews.com's "America's Government by Extortion."]
By using the Republican House and its gerrymandered "majority" to prevent votes on straightforward bills to pay for the government and raise the debt ceiling, the Tea Party is now testing whether the majority of the nation can be coerced into accepting the demands of a right-wing minority through threats of economic calamity.
Even some Republicans seem confused about their short-term goals. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Indiana, declared, "we're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
But the message that the Tea Party Republicans are delivering to the nation is that if the American people insist on electing Democratic presidents or enacting federal legislation to "promote the general Welfare," the Tea Party will respond by making the economy scream. The economic dislocations from a credit default alone could be so severe that millions of people will be thrown out of work and out of their homes.
The implicit warning is that you will suffer that fate -- you may be driven into poverty -- if you don't let whites continue to rule. Or as the urbane William Buckley put it, you must let whites "prevail, politically and culturally."
An Unthinkable Idea?
For those Americans who recoil at this scenario -- and think it must be unthinkable in the Twenty-First Century -- they should remember their history. In the 1870s, racist whites -- especially in the South but also in many parts of the North -- refused to accept post-Civil War amendments that guaranteed equal rights and voting rights for blacks.
Through connivance and violence, the racist whites prevailed and it took nearly a century -- and much more bloodshed -- to reverse their victories. What America is witnessing today is the next phase of that war for white supremacy. Well-meaning people should not be too cavalier about the outcome.