Austin at Large: Be of Good Cheer, Be Not Afraid
When venomous fear becomes a weapon, we ourselves can become the antidote
No, this is not another pep talk. I know some of you want, or need, to feel more fatalistic in the face of all this wicked nasty nonsense and to be angry, or sad, or both, and after 19 months, or five or six or 25 years, or 400 years, of ongoing sociopolitical trauma, people can feel whatever way they want about it. I've counseled in the past that being fearful, rather than righteous, in our response to All This just slows things down on the road to inevitable change, and that Austin and Texas would be much better off if we could instead (safely!) speed things up.
The past week, there are swarms of venomous beasts infesting all the fields I try to watch over in this space: our red/blue political struggles; our broken conceptions of justice and public safety; and our grievous need for decent housing for all 1 million-and-counting Austinites, and their 1.1 million neighbors in the suburbs, where it is needed. That venom is fear. Not our fear, but that of the distinct and dwindling minorities that are lashing out at us as we get too close, just like a snake would.
Speaking of Greg Abbott ...
Witness the cruelty-is-the-point theatre of our governor demanding, and House Speaker Dade Phelan duly signing, arrest warrants for each of the Runaway Dems. As state Rep. Gene Wu of Houston showed Wednesday morning, it's time for the magic words habeas corpus to enter the chat; the chance that the House Democrats will be taken into custody and dragged to the chamber to make quorum is really, really low, because Texas is not Belarus, yet. They should all just come back and go about their business and even show up at the Capitol as they feel the need, just not in numbers sufficient to make quorum. Changing the rules on this is not a matter of Abbott or Phelan or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick clapping louder; it's a constitutional amendment that all Texans need to approve at the ballot box. And it's already too late for that to happen this November.
If these were normal people, it would be clear to them by now that the only way out of this is a negotiated settlement with the Dems. Because they're not normal, we instead get to hear House Elections Chair Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Lord of the Flies, demanding that Dems not only bend the knee and allow the GOP to pass more offensive culture-war crap (along with the "election integrity" hash Cain cooked up in the regular session) but also apologize to their colleagues for calling them racist for, you know, trying to bring back Jim Crow. Their poor fee-fees!
These guys are in the majority in the Lege but they're in the minority in Texas, even within what used to be the Republican Party. The primary-deciding base of that party has dwindled to fear-stricken white folks with no home training (although, sadly, a lot of money), people who have run out of ways to quash the clearly legitimate claims to justice and equity of the growing crowds who are their neighbors. All they have is chaos and disorder; some could use violence, but their fears have made them impossible to organize, and what you get is Jan. 6. People like Cain, or U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, have already looked at the killer clowns of the MAGA-surrection and wished they could be that cool. Abbott and Phelan are afraid of looking under the rocks that strew the road to the 2022 cycle. Watch out for snakes! They'll bite you, too.
Neighbor Against Neighbor
Abbott's fear of anyone and anything that could make him lose his next election is clearly stronger than the fear of being haunted by the spirits of thousands of Texans who died of COVID-19. (His above-and-beyond lashing out at Austin, where he's lived for decades as a state official, is more complex and neurotic.) Making himself a menace to the lives of Texas schoolchildren is, admittedly, not where I think any of us expected Greg Abbott to stick the landing on his career, but even there he can plausibly calculate that the truculent anti-vax nutters will have his back, and that they're more committed and dedicated participants in today's politics than are frantic moms of 7-year-olds, and that this is the survival move.
But with each jaw-droppingly stupid thing Abbott and other GOP electeds have to do to perform the outrage and lib-owning that pleases the base, they are climbing up on a higher and more fragile perch to escape the snakes below, and the chances it will fall over, quickly and totally, become greater. It's the same for the cop-heads clinging to their Punisher decals and blue line flags, not looking at the obvious evidence that their Save Austin Now 2.0 campaign is a con job that's made the cops the face of public corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse, troubling even the keep-Austin-safe suburban moms who can't process the signals of racism and fascism. And it's the same for NIMBYs shrieking about their ongoing losses in the game of whack-a-mole with developers trying to build housing, which they have demanded (in court!) we play instead of writing a new land use code.
Will it be funny when dumb people making bad choices finally fall into the snake pit? No, it will not, just as it's not funny that anti-vax influencers are dying of COVID-19 and that doctors and nurses still have to try their best to save their lives. It's all a huge mess we will have to clean up. But this week's scripture up in the headline (Matthew 14:27 KJV) kinda gets it right. Not being afraid of what others fear takes "heart" and "courage" (as this verse often gets translated), but it also brings us joy. Be of good cheer, and we can survive this chaos.