A Race Among the Ruins
"Texas history is a varied, tempestuous, and vast as the state itself. Texas yesterday is unbelievable, but no more incredible than Texas today. Today's Texas is exhilarating, exasperating, violent, charming, horrible, delightful, alive." - Edna Ferber, author, “Giant,” 1955.
A Race Among the Ruins
Texas is falling to pieces. It’s not something you can see from the road because the law collapses before the infrastructure. The governor and the radical right legislature are tramping all over the Constitution with laws and executive orders that not even a moderately conservative U.S. Supreme Court (if we had one) could be expected to let stand. Our rights are disappearing into the haze of corporate largesse and a political appeal to a Republican primary base that in no way represents the average Texas voter.
If you haven’t been keeping up, look at the box score. The latest is an abridgment of due process occurring down on the border. In his xenophobic zeal to turn Texas into an immigrant gulag, Governor Greg Abbott has had state law enforcement arrest undocumented people crossing the border, who are then thrown into prisons without due process. According to a Texas Tribune report, more than 900 men, generally arrested for trespassing in Kinney County near Del Rio, have been held for over a month without being charged, given access to an attorney, or informed of their rights under U.S. laws. Most do not speak English and have had little to no communication with their families.
And the governor does not give a damn. Sure, it’s only poor and desperate Mexicans and Haitians and Central Americans trying to get work, housing, and food in a more promising environment, but their treatment, which is every bit as illegal as their entry into this country, sets a precedent that threatens the rights of anyone, citizen or otherwise, who is arrested at some point in the future in Texas. If they can ignore the law for one type of person, they can do it for the many.
If they can ignore the law for one type of person, they can do it for the many.
Of course, statutes and constitutional precedents are only relevant when they serve Abbott’s and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s political ambitions. The constitutional right to privacy, guaranteed by the Roe v. Wade decision means nothing to the minority party ruling Texas. The Trump-Abbott-Patrick triumvirate have decided a woman’s body is the business of their political party and architected a law that allows anyone from anywhere to sue anyone who assists a woman with getting an abortion. The U.S. high court, infested by the beery ideology of Kavanaugh and Thomas and Barrett, refused to even rule on the constitutionality of the Texas measure, and women’s clinics were forced to stop answering their phones or face a battery of lawsuits that would bring financial ruin. You may be assured women are now confronting the costs of running to states with more pertinent understanding of the Constitution while others are seeking illicit solutions to problem pregnancies that might ruin their lives, or they will be forced to bear offspring that may be condemned to an existence of desperation.
The Abbott and Patrick version of life’s sanctity ends once a child comes down the birth canal and enters the world of the living. If they are born to a single mother from a low-income background, or any other circumstance that does not involve resources or social advantages, they will find their new lives in Texas to be quite grim. The state has more than 5 million uninsured residents and about a million of them are children. If Abbott were to ever consider the rational approach of accepting Medicaid coverage expansion, funded at least fifty percent by the federal government, most of those kids would be covered. Instead, Texas’ myopic leadership has sent about $20 billion dollars of your tax money to other states to help pay for health care for their poor and indigent citizens.
Abbott simply does not want to have Texas pay for its share of the cost of caring for the less privileged even though an estimated 80 million Americans are already receiving Medicaid, approximately one fourth of the population. Voters supporting Abbott and Patrick with comfortable majorities are mostly in the state’s rural areas, which are losing funding because Medicaid does not have the Texas funding needed to pay for services when not covered by patients. In fact, 26 rural Texas hospitals had closed prior to Covid coming to town. The real issue, though, for Texas Trumpers like Abbott and Patrick is that if you give the poor health care, they might end up trusting government and voting for Democrats, and if they are suffering, they are too busy to worry about politics. There are other things on their minds.
To suggest Abbott and Texas state government doesn’t care about the pains of the poor is to understate the matter. Our institutions barely know the halt and the lame exist, which precludes any kind of assistance. Even worse, our governor issues edicts that make universal frailties more deadly. His order banning mask mandates has literally sacrificed lives of the innocent on the altar of his presidential ambitions. Not even in the fantastical delusional universe of Greg Abbott is his anti-mask rule disconnected from the number of Texas Covid dead. At this writing, there are more than 4 million cases and above 65,000 dead with an annualized average of 270 dead daily over the last month while Abbott sends out weekly Tweets claiming Covid is increasingly under control. Instead, there are only a handful of ICU beds available in one of the most populous states in the nation. In Houston, which has one of the world’s largest medical complexes and serves an estimated 6.6 million people, there are rarely more than two dozen intensive care beds and it was once as low as six.
Normally, there is a cure for this type of absurdity, which is an election. But steps are being taken to make voting considerably less determinative. The first move in Texas was to change voting regulations to make it more challenging for people of color, and middle- and low-income citizens that are historically inclined to cast ballots for Democrats. The governor pushed the legislature to penalize county officials for sending ballots to people who did not ask for them, in fact, making it a felony. As additional examples, the law ended drive-through and twenty-four-hour voting. These were rules adopted after the huge Democratic turnout in Harris County, which threatens to end the Trump and Abbott reign over Texas.
But, as the old Vegematic commercials used to say, “Wait, there’s more!”
The redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines, which occurs every ten years after the census, is underway in a special session of the Texas legislature. The maps released by the Abbott and Patrick controlled legislature will disenfranchise people of color by reducing the number of minority controlled districts even as their populations outstrip White voters. Census numbers indicate that Texas gained 11 new Hispanic residents for each White since the last census was taken in 2010. If your logic tells you that their political power would also be increasing, you simply have not lived in Texas for a sufficient period. The historic goal is always to marginalize minorities, and that is precisely what the new maps accomplish even as the state gains congressional seats.
Such an assault on the public’s franchise might be enough for most aspirant dictators but Greg Abbott is licking the jack boots of Donald Trump, who demanded an audit of the Texas election. The governor, pretending he has an actual secretary of state, who must order such audits, went ahead, and issued the command by his own rolling blunder self. In a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars, the state’s four most populous counties are about to undergo election audits, even though they have already been counted and recounted to show President Biden won three and the other went to Trump. Abbott, while claiming to be a fiscal conservative, is wasting taxpayer time and money trying to create the false impression the integrity of the vote is lacking. Every time a settled election is audited for fraud, democracy grows more weakened, which is precisely what Trump and Abbott desire.
And on what basis is such an audit being conducted? There is no widespread fraud, and barely any that registers. What exists is a waste of money to try to find fraud. Our indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has still not been prosecuted after six years, pissed away 22,000 hours of state investigators’ time to find just 16 cases of voter fraud in the last election. These were all nothing more than people who had filled out false addresses, which means they probably did not know whether to put in past locations or where they were living temporarily or were moving to. Consider that number as a percentage of the tens of millions of votes cast, and the absurdity of an election audit increases exponentially in comparison to the pea brains who see demons behind every curtain.
The above is only a light brush across the surface of partisan political cow pies that pass for Republican leadership in Texas. The question is what must be done? How do sane, even marginally rational humans get back in control before Oklahoma begins to look attractive?
The first movement to confront this comes from a former Democrat turned Republican turned Independent turned Democrat. Matthew Dowd announced in a lovely video from Wimberley, Texas that he is running against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who holds the most powerful office in the state. Dowd returns to his original party’s candidacy with an interesting set of luggage from whence he has come. In 2000, after he had left the Democrats, he helped George W. Bush steal the presidency (see also: Florida) by offering polling and strategic advice based upon his numbers. (Never mind that he misspelled “Sutherland Springs,” the site of a deadly mass church shooting, as “Sunderland Springs).
Dowd’s exit from the left to the right was only slightly less embarrassing than former Ann Richards’ and Mark White consultant Mark McKinnon, who famously told a now defunct national publication that he saw Bush across the room at a party and felt the way most men do when they are with their wives at a function and see a beautiful woman. The fella was drawn to W, y’all. He consequently became fond of telling everyone, “I’m not a Republican, I’m a Bush guy,” which, in my view, was just a way of telling everyone he’s in for the paycheck.
Dowd and McKinnon were on the same team working for statewide Texas Democrats but when it became clear that Ann Richards’ was not bound for Washington and the big show, they both looked around and found the next train leaving. They can be forgiven some of their opportunism because political consultants are nothing without clients. However, their sins are a bit more manifest than simply crossing the aisle. Both men were instrumental in selling the fake WMD story to national audiences and Dowd ran the 2004 strategy with Karl Rove that attempted to make gay marriage unconstitutional, a ploy to gin up evangelical turnout at the polls, and it worked. Dowd and McKinnon, arguably, have blood that will not wash off their hands from their promotion of W’s dirty little war.
Texas Democrats, however, do not have the privilege of running their candidates through a purity test. Dowd has critical experience in both political camps, understands the media as a former political director for ABC News, and is far more attuned to the realities of life than Patrick. Nonetheless, the Republicans will come after him for party switching, abandoning a popular president when he split with W, and, almost certainly for his personal life. The New York tabloids, especially Page Six, wrote breathlessly about Dowd sleeping with Maria Shriver while he was running her husband’s gubernatorial campaign. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have bedded the couple’s housekeeper and shared a child with her, but Dowd was accused of cuckolding the terminator while he sent him out on the campaign trail. If the Democrats don’t think Dowd will be dragged through this again, they are as silly as they are hopeful.
He could, however, be a powerful candidate, and if Patrick and Abbott continue to act like rulers instead of elected representatives, Dowd might have a legitimate chance to send Patrick back to being a weekend sportscaster in San Angelo. Nonetheless, there is something a touch unseemly about a guy who abandons his party, runs off to elect a conservative Republican president, and makes a charter plane full of money in the process while he is helping to start a deadly elective war, and then comes home to Texas to say he has seen the error of his ways and wants to run for office by being the guy he really is. There is no such thing as a lapsed Democrat in today’s politics. Also, it should be considered that the primary is no lay down for Dowd. Mike Collier, a Democrat who lost to Patrick by five points in 2018, had announced an exploratory committee to contemplate another run at the job.
While it is unfair to suggest the Democrats are in disarray, their party is barely more representative of the Texas electorate than are the Trump Republicans. Their most likely candidate for governor appears to be Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from El Paso who ran a close race against mean Canadian Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate a few years ago. His candidacy against Abbott would, once again, place two white males at the top of the Democratic ticket in a state that is becoming increasingly Hispanic daily. The reality of this transition is acutely apparent in the numbers.
A recent FOIA request offers preliminary data from 2020 that 80,305 more White Texans died than Hispanics, which was the sixth straight year that the figure was above 80,000, and means that at the end of a decade there will be about 850,000 fewer White voters, the majority of which could be considered GOP electorate. The future can also be seen in the demographics of public schools in Texas. In the past 20 years, White students in K-12 classes declined by 307,385 as Hispanics surged by 1,305,408, and, if you narrow that window to 2010-2020, Hispanic student figures rose by 299,759 as Whites enrolled in Texas public schools dropped by 102,952.
What this means is that if Texas Democrats are going to win a statewide race with two White males at the top of their ticket, they need to find a way to reach Hispanic voters. Beto lost to Cruz by only 215,000 out of 8.4 million votes cast and he ran a campaign that communicated with Latino voters with the same messages he delivered to Whites. There is a rational argument to be made that O’Rourke might have won had he concentrated sharply on issues like Medicaid expansion in Texas and approval of the Dreamers’ Act to provide citizenship to children brought to the country by undocumented immigrants. Cruz opposed both those issues. Instead, O’Rourke ran what his team called “a positive campaign.” As a friend of mine has pointed out, Beto’s campaign was both inspirational and aspirational, but it wasn’t winning. It has a chance next year, however, if he reminds people of Abbott’s failures to fortify the electrical grid and instead enrich energy companies, his vile “heartbeat bill” that means women won’t be able to get abortions even if they are raped, the failure to deal with Covid and order people to protect others with masks, and his wiping away of constitutional rights on the border while spending billions for his own worthless little wall.
While it is generally considered a rash overreach to compare Trump Texan politics to what happened in Germany in the middle of the last century, I am very afraid our state is becoming a template for changing the entire country to a dangerous kind of ideology that tolerates no dissent. I have lately returned to rereading William Shirer’s masterful “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer, and I am more than startled by the historical parallels between Texas and pre-war Germany. The state’s requirement that the national anthem be sung at public sports venues and that a true history of race in America not be taught are no different than orders issued by the Reich when Hitler rose to power. We are shuffling off down a path that leads to a consuming fire.
And we must find the will to turn around.