Resurgence of the Closed America

As this election approaches, I am deeply disturbed by polls that show Tea Party candidates gaining strength. I am appalled at the numbers of people who disapprove of Obama.

US midterms illus (do not publish again) (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
US midterms illus (do not publish again)
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
AS AN AMERICAN JEW I FIND MYSELF IN A STRANGE position in the upcoming elections. The Jewish part of me has shrunk and the American part of me has taken over more space in my turbulent brain.
Usually I am a Jewish voter in an American scene. This time I am a knee-trembling American voter with a little Jewish voice inside that reminds me once in a while to consider: “Is it good for the Jews, or bad for the Jews?” Here is why. My America is under siege from a right-wing, angry, know-nothing group. They want to demolish the New Deal.
They would destroy the social safety net. They would abolish such “frivolities” as food stamps and school lunches and they would privatize social security and legislate against worker protections of all kinds. They are for keeping the government out of every area except a woman’s womb. They are against civil rights laws and environmental laws. They would repeal the health care act, which was never more than a tepid response to the inequities of care. They believe in abstinence-only sex education. They want to throw illegal immigrants out and keep immigration down to a trickle. They do not want gays to have equal access to marriage or inheritance laws or adoption.
They want to maintain the white and Christian air of America.
They want to remove all separations of church and state and allow Jesus into the schools and onto the football fields.
All of which would turn America into a country as cruel as the deepest jungle and as small-minded as the smallest town.
I am alarmed, as the polls reveal their strength and the media cover their views and these people smile broadly at the cameras and wink at their supporters. They believe that every citizen should be able to carry a concealed gun and that even in cases of rape and incest, abortion should be prohibited. And there are millions of them.
Once theirs was an extremist view, a small minority of malcontents muttering at the rest of us. But now they surge forward, threatening to win election after election. Their candidates draw large crowds. They threaten the election of staid opponents and will overwhelm moderate candidates. Their views are not new but their confidence and their numbers, fed by recession and discontent, are.
Their America is the America of the 1950s, when repression was everywhere and conformity was the dominant mode of being. Anti- Communism had turned rabid and innocents were caught in dragnets of political purity. Our constitutional liberties were threatened by extremists who became very mainstream. In the 1950s, America did not march in Selma or fight to end segregated schools, water fountains, buses and trains.
I am afraid of this resurgence of that closed America.
As this election approaches, I am deeply disturbed by polls that show Tea Party candidates gaining strength. I am appalled at the numbers of people who disapprove of President Barack Obama and I know that one-fifth of the country believes the disinformation that he was not born in America and therefore is not a legitimate president.
All this creates an air of rebellion, a threat to the normal election process. A candidate in Nevada has suggested that Americans take up arms against their government if they don’t like the way things are going. She may very well win the election.
So as an American I feel as I did when the Soviet missiles were headed toward us and we worried that our world was coming to an end.
We weathered that crisis and the others that followed, but if a group of lunatics in a beer hall could convince millions to become mass murderers and invade the rest of Europe, I believe we should always be wary of the outraged and manipulated populace.
The Jewish part of my mind is also concerned about this election.
Yes, for the most part, the Tea Party and their allies support Israel.
But the Israel they support is the one that the Israeli right wing has convinced them is the “real Israel.” I know that mainstream US Jews believe that the right wing will offer Israel better support. According to this view, a US right-wing victory will enable the right wing in Israel to hold on to the land the settlers have claimed, which would slow down or abort the peace process. Advocates of this approach sincerely believe that they are acting in Israel’s best interests.
I think, however, that Israel would be stronger and safer if a real peace process were to continue and compromises were made by both sides. Those Jews who do not trust or like Obama will not lead Israel toward peace but toward a state of endless tension and combat.
But this coming American election is not really about Israel.
Everyone claims to be a friend of Israel – we can discuss later to which Israel they are referring.
This election is about what kind of America we will have.
Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York.