Identity, Values, and the American Tea Party




Wiskin, Alisa

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This thesis examines the value-commitments that drove the activism of fourteen Virginia Tea Party members in 2010. The personal narratives of these fourteen Tea Party members informed a loose "theory" about Tea Party activism, namely that: The Tea Party‘s narrow conception of American identity, Americanism, was the primary value-commitment that drove the group‘s political activism. Aspects of social identity theory help frame the arc of the analysis with particular focus on Tea Party group identity and collective axiology. I argue that freedom and opportunity make up the principle values in the Tea Party‘s collective axiology, or shared value system. The Tea Partiers‘ commitment to these twin values of freedom and opportunity are expressed in one significant way as threat narratives, which I have summarized and coined as: socialism, burgeoning debt crisis, and bleak future (pessimism). The second half of the thesis looks at "Tea Party as religion" with an analysis of those features of Tea Party identity that hint of a fundamentalist-like orientation. I argue that the Tea Party in 2010 displayed a form of political fundamentalism, centered on notions of Constitutional purity, liberty, and the free market system. I also expand on the idea of "Americanism" and posit that for the Tea Partiers, Tea Party identity was simply an extension of their American identity. For the Tea Party members, their American identity was their most salient identity and they were fully invested in their belief of American exceptionalism. The thesis concludes by revisiting the Tea Partiers‘ value-commitment to opportunity by analyzing their chief concern of maintaining a viable American future for their children and grandchildren. The Tea Party phenomenon is emblematic of an intractable values-based conflict that is at once very personal yet far-reaching - with likely national implications.



Values, Tea Party, American identity, Collective axiology, Threat narratives, Patriotism