Do you remember Rick Santelli? No? Let me refresh your memory. On February 9, 2009, Santelli, a CNBC commentator, went on an epic rant and called for the American people to rise up and hold "tea party" rallies to protest the then-recent $700 billion federal bailouts of banks and automakers, the $800 billion economic stimulus package of President Barack Obama, and the resultant government deficits and debt.
A couple of months later, on April 15th (tax day) of that year, rallies were held in cities all around the country. Thousands of protesters, many dressed in colonial wigs and revolutionary war garb, showed up with protest signs to listen to speeches lambasting the Obama administration's "tax-and-spend" policies.
The protestors chanted "Give me liberty, not debt," "Our kids can't afford you," and other righteous sentiments. "I have two little kids, and I know we are mortgaging their futures away," said a protester at a rally in Austin, Texas. "It makes me sick to my stomach."
- Rick Santelli
A lot of people were sick to their stomachs, apparently. You may or may not recall that the "TEA" in TEA Party stood for "Taxed Enough Already." These Americans were so damned angry that the country's deficit was so big, they started a movement. And it caught on, bigly. Hundreds of TEA Partiers won political office locally, statewide, and nationally. They were mad as hell, and they weren't going to take it. Change was coming!
So where are the TEA Partiers today? Well, Michael Pence is vice president of the United States. Marsha Blackburn is a U.S. senator, as are Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Mike Lee (R-Utah). In the House of Representatives, there are currently 23 members of the TEA Party Caucus, down from 60 members just five years ago.
Oddly enough, despite all the TEA Party's passion about "taxing and spending," the current national deficit is $22 trillion — the highest it has ever been — according to Treasury Department data released in February. The reason is not rocket science. Tax revenue has fallen, and federal spending has continued to rise. The new debt level reflects an increase of more than $2 trillion since President Trump took office in 2017.
Further, according to the Congressional Budget Office: "Despite being in the second-longest economic expansion since the post-World War II boom, the U.S. is projected to rack up annual deficits and incur national debt at rates not seen since the 1940s [$1.2 trillion annually over the next 10 years]. ... Other than the period immediately after World War II, the only other time the average deficit has been so large over so many years was after the 2007-2009 recession."
Hmmm. Seems we are in familiar territory, no? So where are all the angry protests? Where are the thousands of people taking to the streets because the government is "mortgaging the future"? Why aren't Marsha Blackburn, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Congressional TEA Party Republicans demanding fiscal accountability?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest it's because the TEA Party was never really about taxes and spending. It was about getting President Obama and other Democrats out of office. The fact that Obama was president was a feature of the TEA Party movement, not a bug. The deficit just gave protesters more fuel for their anti-Obama fire. It was all about raw power, with a bonus dollop of racism. (If you doubt that latter statement, just google some of the images and signs from TEA Party protests.)
Now Donald Trump is president, and to say the least, he is an economic pinball, careening from one policy pronouncement to another, tossing tariffs like darts at a wall map, sticking longtime allies and traditional foes alike, making deals (and faking deals), and declaring that "trade wars are easy to win." He freely criticizes publicly traded American companies he doesn't like, affecting stock prices with a tweet or a public pronouncement.
On Monday, for example, the president called in to CNBC's Squawk Box to accuse Google and Facebook and other high-tech corporations of "discriminating" against him and suggested possible anti-monopoly actions could be considered. This is hardly behavior for an American president. But we should be used to that by now, I suppose.
Which leaves one question: Where's Rick Santelli when we really need him?