Chronicles of American Politics: The Posters of the Chamomile Tea Party, 2010-2018

Chamomile Tea Party

Introduction and Part 1: Partisanship on Overdrive

Introduction
In July 2010, as the Senate held Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, news reports suggested her confirmation vote would run along party lines, with all Republicans voting against her, (as it turned out, five Republican Senators voted to confirm her). Polarization was becoming the wall dividing America. This was the beginning of the Chamomile Tea Party. Starting with old World War I and World War II propaganda posters, Jeff Gates began remixing these posters with new text and imagery into commentary on the sorry state of contemporary American political discourse.
Why would someone elected to represent the American people put their party ahead of what’s good for the country? At first, Gates believed "the greater good" would rise above party politics. But, he misjudged the game of power.
The Chamomile Tea Party was formed to comment on the bluster of the Tea Party, which began in 2009 as a protest against Barack Obama's social and fiscal agendas. In the intervening eight years, the political landscape has morphed. Tranquility and compromise, which, at the time, seemed merely difficult to obtain, now seems impossible. These posters reflect the conflicts the our political system has been experiencing during this turbulent period. They are meant to encourage an exploration and a dialogue about the cultural minefield we now find ourselves in.
In 2018, you hear little about the Tea Party. Its agenda has been assimilated within conservative, populist, and libertarian movements. Its staunch opposition to more liberal and progressive public programs, and, most importantly, its obstruction of any compromise within the Republican Party, now dominate the American political landscape. 
The impetus for the Chamomile Tea Party was political, but its form owes its existence to popular culture. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Gates was a child of commercial advertising. And, he was interested in how words and images were used to sell a product or an idea. This led to an exploration of propaganda posters which, like advertising, use images and text in economical, yet powerful ways.
This project is divided into six exhibits that start with the rise of the Tea Party and the pressure it exerted on the GOP. It concludes with the effects and fallout of Donald Trump's presidency. Over the course of eight years, over 100 posters have been created. Following each Chamomile Tea Party poster is the original poster that inspired this remix. Some posters are original and have no source.
Part 1: Partisanship On Overdrive
Two things led to the meteoric rise of polarization in American politics: the assent of the Tea Party and the 2010 midterm elections. The Tea Party's influence grew with its opposition to President Obama's stimulus packages following the Great Recession and to his Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). Its influence had a big effect on the 2010 midterm elections, which saw the Republican Party take control of the House and reduce the Senate's Democrat majority to just 53. The result was unstoppable polarization and effective governance grinding to a halt.

STOP Stealing Tools. Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. 1941-1945 Source: National Archives

In October 2012, just before the presidential election, Jeff Gates bought advertising space in the Washington, DC Metro. This ad was at the Farragut West Station on the Orange and Blue lines.

This ad, along with a second at the Gallery Place Metro Station, encouraged dialogue about the issues taking place close by on Capitol Hill. Gates would stand by these posters on a daily basis, listening to comments and engaging the public about the issues.

Designer note: To match the ratio of the horizontal backlighted signs, Gates constructed the rest of the image beyond the original vertical poster.

This Ruined Europe : Never Let It Happen Over Here, C.R. Miller, 1940, Think America Institute. This poster is part of a series of pro-American posters published by the Think America Institute to counter government interference and nationalization during World War II. Source: Bugajski, Jill. “Chapter 2: A Brave New Industry: Liberalism and Design at the American Think Institute, 1939-43.” Conflict, Identity, and Protest in American Art, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, pp. 16–33.

Stolen Equipment is Cutting Your Lifeline!, Artist Unknown, 1943-1945, Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. Source: National Archives

Stop Breakage!; 1942-1945; Unknown; Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services; Source: National Archives

Closed For the Duration. Loose Talk Can Cost Lives, 1942, Howard Scott, British and American Ambulance Corps, Printed at the bottom of the original poster: DISTRIBUTED IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL DEFENCE, AND AS A MEANS OF OBTAINING FUNDS FOR AMBULANCES WHEREVER NEEDED, BRITISH AND AMERICAN AMBULANCE CORPS, INC., 420 LEXINGTON AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY' 'ART' 'LITHO IN U.S.A.' Source: Gettysburg College Digital Collections

Let ‘Em Have It : It’s the Republican Way, 2010

After major Democrat victories in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, the Republican Party was left for dead. It had no strategy and no leader. But, rather than propose its own agenda, the party chose to obstruct almost every proposal put forth by President Obama and the Democrats, even if these proposals were once supported by the GOP. They became The Party of No. And, the filibuster became their "go-to" strategy.

Let 'Em Have It : Buy Extra Bonds, 1943, Bernard Perlin, United States War Finance Division and United States Department of the Treasury, Source: University of North Texas Digital Library"

Mothers of Men : Build Strong Bodies; 1941-1945; Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services; Source: National Archives

On October 30, 2010, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hosted The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall. People printed and brought Chamomile Tea Party posters to the event as evidenced by the front page of the Huffington Post on October 31, 2010.

I'm counting on you! : Don't Discuss: Troop Movements, Ship Sailings, War Equipment; 1943; Leon Helguera; United States Office of War Information, Division of Public Inquiries; Source: University of North Texas Digital Library

Report Faulty Wiring : Electrical Fires Are Hard To Control; 1941-1945; Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services; Source: National Archives

Chronicles of American Politics: The Posters of the Chamomile Tea Party

Part 1: Partisanship on Overdrive

Next::
Part 2: The Electorate

Part 3: Politicians and Our Political Process

Part 4: The Issues

Part 5: Post-Truth, The Contentious Election

Part 6: Post Election: Post-Truth Reaches New Heights

Download a brief bibliography of topics covered in these exhibits.

Credits: Story

Next, Part 2: The Electorate

All Chamomile Tea Party posters are published under a Creative Commons license. You are free to distribute these posters with attribution, providing the purpose is non-commercial and they are not altered. High resolution posters are free and can be downloaded via chamomileteaparty.com.

The Chamomile Tea Party was formed to comment on the bluster of the Tea Party, which began in 2009 as a protest against Barack Obama's social and fiscal agendas. In the intervening eight years, the political landscape has morphed. Tranquility and compromise, which, at the time, seemed merely difficult to obtain, now seems impossible. These posters reflect the conflicts the American political system has been experiencing during this turbulent period. They are meant to encourage an exploration and a dialogue about the cultural minefield we now find ourselves in. The Chamomile Tea Party is affiliated with Artists for a Better Image, Inc.

Jeff Gates is an artist and writer. He has a B.A. in political science from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. in graphic design and photography from UCLA. He is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships for his photographs from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the founder of Artists for a Better Image, where he studies stereotypes of artists in contemporary culture. His art is in the collections of museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Huntington Library, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the International Center for Photography. He has written for publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and Smithsonian Magazine.

Contact the artist.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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