Austin at Large: To Shame the Strong
Let the congregation sing: “For God’s sake, give more power to the people”
"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong."
What St. Paul is talking about here (1 Corinthians 1:27) is equity and the end of privilege, the leveling of all people into a common state of freedom through salvation, sheep of the same flock. This means taking down a notch those the world tells us are entitled to more power, the "wise" and "strong." Your mileage may vary on the theological claims, but it's not too far afield from the secular tenets of the civic religion that is American democracy. (See also: the Magnificat, the Beatitudes.)
The locus of power within that democracy can always drift around a bit, toward solidarity or meritocracy or oligarchy or tribalism or brute force, blown by the winds of the times. But while "the people" often feel we have too little control over the choices that change lives – that "American democracy" is imperfect as a rule – we do control the very real power to define "strength" and "wisdom" and decide who possesses them.
That power is being used right now at all levels of government. In D.C., at the Capitol, at City Hall, we see efforts to direct more power to the "wise" and "strong," and our pleasure or repulsion depends on whether we think those so empowered have what it takes to rule us.
No Heroes Journeying Here
From the top down: As we await the Senate trial of the fast-deflating carcass of re-impeached ex-President Apesh*t, we see ever more frightening fallout of this one man's fantasies of wisdom and strength, and of many people's dark fantasies of dystopia should he lose power, and of an armed-and-dangerous subset of those people's fantasies of noble and heroic rebellion in his name. None of the noise and then the bloodshed of the MAGA insurrection served abstract principle; it was all about him.
That's disturbing as all hell, because we know how unworthy he is and how misguided people are to want to bring an end to the First American Republic (or maybe the Second, post-1865) on behalf of this loser. The ugly whack-a-mole chaos of MAGA, gassed up by the incessant, jacked-up information poisoning of dislocated white people, reflects a sucking void of real strength and wisdom that's worthy of shame. Would a more competent, disciplined champion of white nationalism be more dangerous? Perhaps, but they would also be easier to confront head-on with our own champions, armed with Real Talk and Not-On-My-Watch, than is this messy MAGA clown show.
Here under our pink dome, Gov. Greg Abbott could have been that stronger, wiser bearer of the post-Apesh*t standard had he stayed in character as the diligent and tested leader, toughened by life's traumas, that he had mostly pulled off in his ascent to the pinnacle of power in Texas. Instead, his State of the State address this week shows he's lost the plot of his own hero's-journey narrative, swaddled in petty pandering nonsense, playing political small ball, forfeiting the influence his predecessors had accrued in the once-weak governorship and gifted upon him, and being shamed by the truly foolish and weak.
Other than the push for improved broadband access – a bipartisan goal dating back decades – none of Abbott's priorities respond even minimally to the weighty challenges facing Texans during and after the pandemic. They don't even matter to most Texas Republicans, who don't live in Dirty Austin with its roving zombie gangs and poor, mistreated widdle police force, and who don't care who gets sued if someone gets the 'rona at Landry's. Indeed, the MAGA-rific House Freedom Caucus blasted Abbott for not touching on their own priorities, gruesome as they are – guns for everyone, abortions for no one, you know the drill.
Slings and Arrows Abound
Abbott did genuflect to Emperor Apesh*t with a nod to "election integrity," which means little since so few voter-suppression stones remain unturned in this Great State. The opposite impulse has driven Austinites for Progressive Reform's campaign to empower a "strong mayor" – which is destined for a May special election ballot – and also those who aim to defeat it.
This week has seen some frankly humorous sniping between the spokespeople on both sides, trying to make noise before the election is even called, with backers labeling opponents (led by labor, including the union representing city employees) as "entrenched interests" and getting called "wealthy elites" in return, which is hard to dispute. It's all familiar stuff for the Austin politics watcher; we'll let you know when "developers" enter the chat.
As we've written before, the other three APR amendments are pretty trivial compared to the huge power shift that "strong mayor" would entail. Both sides say their position gives more power to the people; backers point to a strong mayor reclaiming that power from unelected City Hall executives, opponents to power flowing away from the broadly representative council into one leader's hands. Both can point to the status quo as evidence. A progressive council majority cut the police budget, a power too great, opponents say, to allow the wrong strong mayor to veto. But police Chief Brian Manley still has a job because, proponents say, the current system cannot respond to the will of the people. It's a serious enough question that deserves more debate than an exchange of campaign talking points, but one where the Austin body politic, unlike Abbott's red regime or MAGA Nation, possesses enough real strength and wisdom to make a valid choice.