The Civil Rebellion

One of the more satisfying conclusions I've reached as a participant in American life for nearly six decades is that we've grown into being a fairly kind, forgiving, and empathetic citizenry. Everywhere I travel, I find people striving to be helpful. I see complete strangers acknowledge each other walking down the street or standing in an elevator. Eating dinner out alone, as I often do when I travel, seems to bring about magically ephemeral friendships purchased with the currency of nothing more than the exchange of a first name. It's been a long time -- years, really -- since I've encountered anyone who was "downright mean."

Of course, it was not always so. Growing up in the New York area in the 1960s and 1970s, one always sensed that both anger and fear, if not pervasive, then certainly just a racial incident or a mugging away, could on their own suspend our freedoms, if only temporarily. Indeed, before I even reached the age of fourteen, I had already witnessed a knife fight just off Fifth Avenue in New York and been chased through Grand Central Station by an openly aggressive pedophile. Even in those anxious moments, the last thing I would have sought was the help of a complete stranger, who back then might have been one of those classically scornful New Yorkers who just didn't want to "get involved," as the great cop-out of the time went.

So what's changed over the last forty or fifty years? The obvious explanation is that life in the United States is demonstrably better now than it was back then. Abject poverty is so rare that it's practically become anecdotal, and even statistical poverty has a middle-class look to it when the availability of myriad social services is taken into account. Real racism still exists, but it is isolated, its practitioners swiftly exposed and silenced. Our air and water are cleaner, and even our forests have grown back to a density not known since the early twentieth century. Technology and cheap energy for transportation have enabled us to touch the world often and from many angles; while a European vacation may have been the trip of a lifetime for my grandparents, in many high schools, it's a common rite of passage following graduation. The only thing that seemed to be lacking, until recently anyway, was a sense of gratitude for all the good things that have come to us over the last half-century.

While I find kinship with the Tea Party movement in its inherent admonition that we can no longer take our prosperity for granted, its most pleasing aspect to me is that it has confounded pundits from all over the political spectrum for its civility, insistence on the rule of law, and commitment to achieving its goals through traditional democratic processes. (And they pick up after themselves after rallies.) Like a good tennis player, Tea Party activists score their best points by playing from the baseline and letting their opponents make all the mistakes. By characterizing decent people as racist, presuming that hate rather than love of country must be their motivation, and subjecting Tea Party leaders to a scrutiny they themselves could not withstand, media critics of the Tea Party movement not only engage in outright slander, but perhaps purposely miss the point. This is as clear as day to any dispassionate observer of what passes for journalism today. Accordingly, the Tea Party represents a pushback against not only big government and excessive taxation, but media bias and political correctness as well. In many ways, it's a good, old-fashioned rebellion against what now constitutes the establishment -- but articulated with a decidedly civil tongue.

So it's no wonder that the majority of Americans sympathize with this largely well-mannered popular uprising. In it they see how they would want to be seen: firm but courteous, outspoken but willing to engage in an honest debate about what's best for our country without being tagged as an Islamaphobe or a racist.

It also explains why many of us are increasingly turning away from the traditional media for our news. In a society whose sense of fair play is so dominant that it has elevated the perfection of instant replay in football to grail-like eminence, it's not the least bit surprising to find within the Tea Party movement a growing insurgency against shameless media bias. This mutiny is particularly well-suited to the not particularly demonstrative because they can carry it out with their TV remote or at their keyboard.

I'll be crossing the country for a book tour over the next couple of weeks and look forward to getting out among my fellow citizens and seeing how well their inherent sense of good will is holding up in these trying times. Hopefully I'll find myself dining out alone among dozens of complete strangers whose fundamental instinct is only to wish me well.

Rick Rinehart is a Colorado publisher and writer whose most recent book is Men of Kent. He can be reached at
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