Le mouvement Tea Party 2009-2017 : résultat d’une enquête en immersion, à Philadelphie et à Boston

Abstract : The Tea Party enters the scene in February 2009 in the United States. On February 19, a CNBC journalist protests on-air against the economic bailout plans voted by President Barack Obama, and invites viewers to organize a « Tea Party » in the Chicago harbor. This contributes to trigger an unprecedented phenomenon, as numerous mass protest rallies soon organize throughout the country, followed by the creation of dozens, then hundreds of local Tea Party groups. Experts are astonished at the swiftness and magnitude of the movement. All the more so in 2010, when the Tea Party starts claiming political objectives and shows intent of institutionalizing, proving a threat to the Republican Establishment. However, President Obama is reelected in 2012 and this is interpreted as a devastating loss for the movement, for which obituaries are published in several liberal media. Lackluster results in the 2014 mid-term elections seem to confirm this forecast, especially since the Republican Party succeeds at keeping the movement at bay until the primaries for the presidential candidate nomination in 2015. But then there is a reversal; the Grand Old Party clearly radicalizes, as the extremely conservative Republican platform notably shows. And the election of outsider Donald Trump to the presidency in November 2016, a conjunction of numerous electoral factors, is also the result of organizational efforts on the right side of the political spectrum, to which the Tea Party largely contributed. To better apprehend this movement, it is necessary to understand that it combines top-down and bottom-up forces. From its appearance, the Tea Party has indisputably benefitted from colossal resources from interest groups and think tanks such as FreedomWorks, American Majority, Americans for Prosperity or The Heritage Foundation, but also from conservative media. Either organizational or rhetorical, these resources are primeval for the movement’s organization and activism. Nevertheless, there are voluntary activists working at the basis of the movement, who devote their time and energy to the Tea Party, and claim its grassroots nature. National organizations such as Tea Party Patriots try to establish themselves as federations for the groups affiliated to them, while some local groups seek to remain independent. Libertarian and conservative organizations gravitate around Tea Party groups, the whole forming a complex cluster that operates at different levels and following diverse configurations. Thus the object of this field study is to shed light on the Tea Party movement from the inside, thanks to the observation of local groups from an embedded position. These groups are located in the Philadelphia and Boston areas, respectively in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. First, it is necessary to understand activists’ motivations and ideologies, which are mainly conservative, libertarian and populist; and that Tea Partiers interpret everything though the lens of individual sovereignty, anti-Federalism, and respect of the Constitution. Then, analyzing the modi operandi of the groups allows to illuminate how the whole system works. The Tea Party distinguishes itself as a right-wing movement that recurs to organizational strategies that were predominantly used by progressive movements until recently – the way the movement applies the principles of community organizing is undeniably one of its strengths, particularly considering the new media revolution, and social networks. Its use of Web resources and concrete tools to encourage activism is impressive. Lastly, it is indispensable to grasp that the Tea Party aims for local decision-making positions. To this end, one of its tactics consists in progressively infiltrating the Republican Party
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Agnès Trouillet. Le mouvement Tea Party 2009-2017 : résultat d’une enquête en immersion, à Philadelphie et à Boston. Science politique. Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, 2017. Français. ⟨NNT : 2017USPCC249⟩. ⟨tel-02156275⟩

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