Point Austin: Happy New Year?!?
Looking forward ... 2020 could go either way
It seems likely that 2020 will be a year of dramatic change. The open question: Change for the better, or for worse?
The country is currently ruled by a mad, ignorant king, his court, and his sycophants, who have collectively decided that to hold on to their accustomed but beleaguered power they must do whatever they can to undermine our common institutions of governance, of science and education, of human solidarity, and most especially of justice. In just three years, Donald Trump and his enablers have accomplished a great deal in all these areas, although not in the manner that the would-be tyrant regularly declares to his myriad followers.
As the "American carnage" Trump introduced proceeds to some still-uncertain conclusion, his election taught many of us a valuable lesson: Millions of our neighbors welcome his reflexive, bullying authoritarianism, as long as they remain persuaded it is directed primarily at people other than themselves. His supporters are not a majority, but they are numerous enough that should he and they continue to game the system – packing the courts, suppressing opposing votes – it might be sufficient to maintain power for another decade, perhaps in that time rendering the country unrecognizable.
That's not quite fair: Trump represents a persistent American cultural strain, what James Baldwin once described as "ignorance, allied with power." The fuller quote (from No Name in the Street) is prescient: "Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person – ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."
Signs of Disarray
Entering the new year, that's our national predicament. Closer to home, we've recently been entertained by a state Republican scandal that played more like farce than melodrama. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was foolish enough to try to take into his backstage confidence Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose nickname under the Dome – "Mucus" – let alone his reputation as a backstabber, should have been sufficient to warn Bonnen away. The speaker, a formerly reliable petrochemical backbencher risen above his abilities, was apparently worried enough about this year's GOP prospects that he abandoned caution, attempted to enlist MQS in a scheme to primary insufficiently deferential GOP colleagues, and succeeded only in undoing his speakership and career – while "likely" (read the investigative report) violating state law.
Although it might seem at first an inside-baseball episode, the fact that Bonnen was driven to this embarrassing maneuver reflects real Republican worry about growing statewide resistance to the political status quo. If that resistance can be harnessed and amplified come November, it bears promise of change not only in Texas, but for tipping the national political balance, perhaps irreversibly.
Seize the Time
That's where we are, as the new year turns and the weeks move toward March 3 and the Texas primaries, when Democratic voters need to resist the temptation to form circular firing squads. Our most immediate weapon of resistance remains the vote, despite the battering it has taken from the combination of extreme gerrymandering and suppression – supplemented more than a little by apathy and self-justifying cynicism on the part of people who should know better. Although last year's state GOP effort at wholesale vote-purging concluded in a headline failure, that program will hardly end with the eviction of former Secretary of State David Whitley. The variously suppressive "voter ID" tools remain in place (along with massive disinformation) and as November approaches we can expect them to be utilized enthusiastically.
Despite all these discouraging trends, it remains within the power of Texas voters to fight back against rising authoritarianism, generating reverberations across the national political culture. Trump and his supporters are not omnipotent – their endless whining of victimhood betrays their fear – and it's up to the rest of us to use this year to draw the line of their defeat. Instead of a year of infamy, we can make 2020 a year of expanding justice. As Baldwin also wrote: "There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now."