Discover more from PREVAIL by Greg Olear
Lone Star Failed State
What's wrong with Texas? Easy: Republicans.
TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO, no one lived in Texas. The place was a dusty expanse of nothing. There were no cowboys. There were no oilers. There were no rangers. But there were longhorns. Cattle roamed freely around the vast and flat terrain, unbothered by hungry humans.
The depopulated place was nominally owned by Mexico, which had finally won independence from Spain in 1821. One imagines the United States to have always had a fixed shape, and its flag, a fixed number of stars, but in 1824, the country looked like this:
As you can see, the newly-minted Republic of Mexico controlled a ton of land. But, again, no one lived in Texas—no one but the cattle. I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by much. Even the Comanche, the “Lords of the Plains,” patrolled the area but didn’t really settle down there.
So the fledging Mexican government, in an attempt to lure settlers to the territory, made a deal with the devil: it brought in white people. One of the first empresarios given land patents was Stephen Austin—a visionary with a markedly modern-sounding name. He established settlements along the Brazos River in 1822. Fourteen years later, after the Battle of the Alamo, the white people government declared independence from Mexico, establishing the Republic of Texas. (Texas is the only state in the Lower 48 that was previously a sovereign nation.)
But the rich white slaveholders in the new Republic of Texas, as it turns out, were not very good at governing. Mexican incursions never stopped. The Comanche were not thrilled to have their stomping grounds seized by colonizers. Black slaves were held against their will. And the in-fighting between the two factions of the new Republic was fierce. So Texas did the same thing in 1837 that it would do in 2021—it appealed to the U.S. federal government for help.
Unfortunately for the imperiled white Texans, Washington wasn’t interested. Bringing another slave state into the Union would disrupt the precarious balance and bring about civil war, or so it was feared. President Martin van Buren compared risk to reward and was like, “Screw that noise.” It was not until 1845, after James K. Polk and his mullet was elected president, that Texas was finally admitted to the Union.
(Polk was a rabid expansionist. His theory was: Gobble up territory first, figure out the slavery question later. Under his watch, the United States added over a million square miles of real estate, including what is now Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Texas. He also lowered tariffs and established an independent federal treasury. He left after one term because he accomplished everything he wanted to do—the presidential equivalent of a mic drop. Modern historians rank Polk twelfth overall—on the 2020 list by presidential historians, he is sandwiched between Obama and Clinton. But since the Louisiana Purchase, the only president who more influenced the country long-term was Abe Lincoln—and even that is debatable. We came this close to the Gold Rush of 1849 happening on Mexican soil!)
Fifteen years after joining the Union, Texas rewarded the United States for bailing it out of trouble by seceding to join the Confederate States of America. In other words: in the span of 30 years, Texas dumped both Mexico and the United States. If Texas were a meme, it would be the distracted boyfriend checking out the other girl’s derrière:
In this regard, not much has changed since the 19th century. In the wake of Biden’s decisive victory over twice-impeached loser Donald John Trump, some Texas Republicans lobbied for what would amount to a new Republic of Texas. Allen West, the state’s GOP chair, opined that “law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” A Republican representative in the Texas Statehouse, Kyle Biedermann, took it a step further: “The federal government is out of control & doesn’t represent the values of Texans. That is why I am committing to file legislation that will allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation.” Biedermann attended the MAGA march on January 6.
West and Biedermann are extremists, but Republican governance has been a catastrophe for the state. In John Cornyn and Ted “Cancun” Cruz, Texas has two of the worst Senators in Washington. Its House members include bumbling moron Louis Gohmert; Kay Granger, a Fourth of July Traitor; gun nut Chip Roy; former Trump physician Ronny Jackson; second-generation swamp creature Pete Sessions; and “action hero” Dan Crenshaw, the cosplay Tom Cruise.
But the state-level GOP is even worse. Since Ann Richards was voted out in 1994, the governors of Texas have been…holy hell is this bad…George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and Greg Abbott—each one dumber and crookeder than the last. At the current rate of diminishing returns, Abbott will be succeeded by a decommissioned oil derrick.
In 2015, Abbott fell hook, line, and sinker for Russia’s “Jade Helm” op—you know, where a military exercise was preparing to install Obama as dictator and herd dissidents into vacated Walmart superstores—which emboldened Russia to up its active measures game. He’s a slave of the NRA, prioritizing extreme gun rights at the expense of anything else, and has been useless during the pandemic. The lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, is even worse. He’s the one who went on the news shows and said that seniors should be prepared to die of covid-19 for the sake of the economy. The state attorney general, Ken Paxton—the smirking asshole who filed the seditious lawsuit trying to invalidate the 2020 election—is literally a crook, under indictment for state securities fraud.
And if the men are bad, their policies, such as they are, are worse.
One thing Republicans dependably revile are regulations. How dare those eggheads in Washington tell us which drugs are bad, which meat is spoiled, and which chemicals in the water supply cause cancer! Well, in 2002 the state of Texas, led by then-governor Rick Perry, deregulated the electric power industry, mostly to avoid pesky federal regulations—which, by the way, would have prevented the disaster now happening in the Lone Star State. Perry still thinks this was a good idea, even as Texans are freezing to death and have no water, saying: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business. Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.” I mean, I know Perry is no rocket scientist, but what the fuck is he talking about?
The grid is not resilient. It does not keep anyone safe personally—although it does make business executives in that industry richer. Indeed, with demand for energy so high, the companies are going to make out like the bandits they are, gouging customers who have spent all week burning their furniture to keep warm.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which runs the power grid, was warned many times that it needed to properly winterize its plants. But doing so would have cost money, so nah. Better to chance it and weather the consequences.
Conor Kenny, director of public affairs at a leading Austin civil engineering company, explained in a thread:
This was the looming danger behind the “Texas miracle” economy. We’ve invested the bare min[imum] in education, foster care (kids dying/disappearing), affordable housing & #public health (healthcare in general: asshole Gov[ernor] and #txlege refuse to expand Medicaid so hospitals [are] closing).
And now chickens have come home to roost. We were warned in 2011 that if we didn’t require utilities to spend $ on winterization, this would happen. But we don’t force industry to spend $ in Texas. And now people are freezing and starving in their homes w/ no help on the way.
And our feckless governor, who has never cared for governing as much as he has for his 2024 presidential run or protecting himself from a GOP primary challenge from our huckster Lt Gov., offers nothing but pointing fingers at windmills and his own regulatory appointees.
Republican leadership in Texas not only failed to prevent the easily-preventable problem; it denies that one even exists, blaming the power outages on “wind.” Here is Greg Abbott, ranting about a “Green New Deal” that isn’t an actual thing yet, rather than taking any responsibility for the problem, or, you know, helping:
It is fashionable to blame wind, because wind is not a fossil fuel, and therefore must be part of the “liberal agenda.” Crenshaw, who loves his GOP propaganda, was all over this:
Never mind that wind power works in fucking Antarctica, which last I checked was colder than Texas. Perhaps Ted Cruz was on his way to the South Pole to investigate when he made an impromptu layover in Cancun?
In all seriousness, there is no better symbol of GOP governance in Texas than Cruz flying to a tropical vacation spot while his constituents freeze to death.
Texas is a wonderful and diverse state, a hotbed of creativity and ingenuity and talent. Some of my favorite people in the world call it home. Texans deserve better than the “leadership” of the GOP, which mostly involves screwing everyone—especially people of color—to maximize profits for the (white, mostly) donor class; begging Washington for help (like Stephen Austin did all those years ago); and then blaming its inevitable failures on liberal boogeymen.
One last note: Texas is so associated with cowboys that this is the name of its flagship National Football League franchise. Its white politicians appropriate the cowboy mystique, arraying themselves in cowboy hats and cowboy boots and Western-style shirts. But the rugged, white Marlboro Man sort of cowboy is a myth, bolstered over a century by Wild West traveling shows, Western TV programs, cigarette ads, and Sergio Leone movies.
The original cowboys were vaqueros, who were Mexican, while the actual job in the 19th century was performed overwhelmingly by Latinos, Native Americans, and freed Blacks. It was difficult, demanding work. All these modern Texas politicians in their Stetsons and spurs wouldn’t know the first thing about it. Men like Abbott and Patrick and Perry are frauds—all hat, no cattle. Like the rich white men who ran the Republic of Texas into the ground in the 1830s and 40s, they can’t govern for cow-shit.