For those who only started paying attention to politics during the 2016 election or afterwards, the heyday of the Tea Party movement seems like it was a lifetime away. The country had been going through one of the worst economic crises that people could remember, if you weren’t a young child at the time. President Barack Obama had also just begun his first term. If this is the first you’re hearing of the Tea Party movement, you may have a few questions, such as what exactly the Tea Party movement is. Where did the movement start? Where is it now, and most importantly, why does it matter?
First off, the Tea Party movement was a conservative populist movement, meaning that it aimed or claimed to represent the people, and during 2009, the world was a different place. As mentioned above, the Great Recession had thrown the economy into a downward spiral, and the economy usually affects the political climate. As a refresher, the Great Recession was caused by several factors, but one of the main causes was that lenders overused subprime mortgages, which were home loans that were issued to people with bad or no credit histories. In layman’s terms, imagine that an acquaintance asks you for a loan of $100,000 in order to buy a $105,000 house. You also happen to know that that friend borrowed $75,000 from a close friend of yours, and wasn’t able to pay it back. But you gave that acquaintance that loan of $100,000 anyway, since housing prices at the time were skyrocketing. That meant that if the acquaintance couldn’t pay the loan back, you figured that they could just sell the house and pay you back that way. But after a few years, the housing market crashed. The value of their house is now $20,000, and even worse, the acquaintance can’t make payments on the loan. Even if you foreclose on the house and sell it, you’re still out of $80,000. That was the case for banks after 2007. The Federal Reserve reported that from 2004 to 2007, fifteen percent of all home loans each year were those subprime mortgages. Once 2008 rolled around, the economy was in trouble and those lenders had lost extremely large sums of money, along with the public.
Come 2009, President Obama had just released his plan to help the housing market recover from the crisis, which cost the federal government a whopping $75 billion, which was far more than what was originally planned. That led to a commentator on CNBC proposing a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest the government’s involvement in the housing market, and people turned their anger to the federal government. The movement was founded with the dislike of the federal government and Libertarian principles, which included the idea of an unregulated economy and a limited government. All of that sounded very appealing to Republicans, who didn’t want the $75 billion dollars to come out of their pockets, and another group, who believed in baseless conspiracy theories. Those conspiracy theories about President Obama, ranged from the idea that he was not born in the United States (which was disproven), to the conspiracy theory that stated that then-President Obama is a part of a plot by the New World Order (which had also been disproven). The Tea Party used their newfound strength to organize nationwide rallies on April 15, 2009, which was symbolically Tax day, and as that symbolism suggested, those rallies protested policies that would increase taxes. The movement then continued to protest policies such as healthcare reform during the summer of 2009 and onwards. The mainly conservative movement helped Republicans gain influence and unify conservatives. During that time, Sarah Palin became an unofficial leader of the Tea Party as she spoke on Tea Party issues. However, the Tea Party remained decentralized, with the movement appearing to continue as a grassroots movement even as its influence spread throughout the United States.
As the influence of the Tea Party spread, elections began to reflect that with the Tea Party candidates winning elections, as well as helping Republicans take the House of Representatives in 2010. The Tea Party proceeded to help cause a government shutdown in 2013 by refusing to agree how to fund the federal government. That was all done as an effort to stop the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, from passing. In the end, cracks in the Tea Party began to show as the government shutdown led to the Tea Party losing support and getting little results for it. Even as that happened, the Tea Party helped the Republicans take control of the Senate, along with numerous state governments. The cracks became larger as the Tea Party exerted control of the Republican Party in 2015 through threatening a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, which led to the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, ultimately losing his job to Paul Ryan, whom the Tea Party Republicans supported. Even as that happened, conservatives were losing faith in the Tea Party as they had been unable to put forth legislation that reflected the principles that pushed the Tea Party into the national spotlight. That loss in faith then led to the decline of the Tea Party. In turn, that led to more people supporting political outsiders during the 2016 presidential election, and the rest is history.
But was that really the end of the story? Not quite. The Tea Party rose to significance as it helped polarize conservatives, and served as the death knell for bipartisanship, but now that same political polarization has gone to an extreme level. A good way to bridge the gap is to try to figure out what people on the other side feel like. The Tea Party gained support because people felt scared, and that feeling won’t just go away. We need to work through that fear, and then create solutions to the problems facing this country. History doesn’t need to repeat itself, but it will only stop if people understand it, and that includes understanding how people feel.