Austin at Large: Stupidity – It’s Not Essential
It’s absurd out there, but you can still make good decisions, now and in November
One of the nice things about living through this era of the absurd – it's really a shame that Beckett or Ionesco aren't alive to capture its essence – is that when all your options suck, and everyone's on the same floundering Carnival booze cruise, there's really no pressure to move faster than necessary or to prove anything to anyone else. That's been my advice to the star-crossed Class of 2020 (which includes my son). Yes, you've lost out on the glories of a graduation ceremony that you were unlikely to enjoy or remember anyway, but it's really OK to take it easy and focus on the future. Nobody will second-guess the life choices you make mid-pandemic. You have time to take the steps you need to get what you want. Just take care of yourself now, and don't be stupid.
Our ruling regimes, here and in D.C., clearly don't agree with me, because they forfeited the right to not be stupid back in 2016, and they're totally looking at the petty decisions of the present moment as chances to get ahead, prove their manhood, and stick it to us libs. They really do have no choice, because they've placed their futures in the hands of the stupidest people in America, their beloved base who's cosplaying commando, storming the sandwich shops, and waving the bloody shirt as they get their nails done.
We just have to endure this nonsense while aiming the points of our boots toward Trumpist butts come November. Yes, everyone is tense and spooked because we didn't think Orange Julius would win the first time, but it really won't take that much effort to kick him and all his friends out of office. But then what happens?
Why Cut Corners Now?
Here in Austin, our ability to look beyond the current bullshit has been confounded by our pre-pandemic moves that raise the stakes for this election cycle. In addition to the philosophical questions, mainly around criminal justice, that remain unresolved until the July 14 primary run-off, we also need to pick a new state senator and a new Travis County judge, both gigs whose importance has been heightened by and during the pandemic. We also have several Austin ISD board seats up for grabs, with at least two incumbents bailing out, as the district tries to recover from its school closure miscues while weathering fiscal storms that have already washed away the gains made last year with new state funding. The city will also be in austerity mode as we elect five district council members, but the bigger battle was supposed to be over funding the $1 billion investment in public transit called for by the Project Connect 2.0 plan.
Since that plan was first unveiled – right as South by Southwest was canceled – its big-city, big-ticket scope has gotten even bigger. Capital Metro has decided the Gold Line, originally proposed in PC 2.0 as bus rapid transit from Downtown to Highland, should instead be a rail line from the beginning. That move means that PC 2.0 includes both starter rail lines proposed in the 2000 and 2014 transit ballot initiatives; no half-measures here. (Cap Metro has also dialed back PC 2.0's enhancements to the MetroRail Red Line as cost-ineffective, which is a major shift in transit politics.)
Whatever goes on a future city ballot, and whenever that vote happens, will automatically be constrained by the fiscal realities of life with COVID-19, which may by the fall have surged again. So why cut corners now? Take steps to do what's right, when the right time comes. Either Austin needs a rail system or it doesn't. We could have that vote right now.
Here’s To Your Health
We also would likely welcome the jobs that building out PC 2.0 will create, and have a better chance of federal investment once these decisions aren't being made by Javanka over breakfast. The counter argument will be – and already has been – that mass transit is even more icky now than before, because germs, and that nobody will need it anyway, because telecommuting. The latter claim is only compelling if commute demand management did not lead people to let go of some cars; otherwise, a robust transit and shared mobility system becomes more important, not less.
As for germs, COVID-19 has been made more severe by our sedentary lifestyles and the attendant obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Lower income communities of color, such as in the Eastern Crescent, are poorly served by transit and are incomplete in their land use, which exacerbates poor health outcomes both in general and with COVID-19. Even leaving aside the exponentially greater risk of injury and death from auto travel compared to other modes, choosing to forgo investment in transit right now would be bad for Austin's health.
This is important for you to remember, because you read the Chronicle and are thus not among the stupidest people in America. The ruling regime, which sees all of these things we know Austin needs to do – from wearing masks to fixing the schools to building rail transit – as existential threats, will fight and scream with everything it's got to keep us trapped in the world of the absurd. Don't give in to the pressure. You don't need to.