Texas has never forgiven Alaska for joining the Union over sixty years ago and taking its title as the biggest of all the United States. But that’s the only way it has been surpassed. Outsiders may see New York as the brash business hub and California as the creative capital, but when it comes to down-home all-American yee-haw, Texas has them all beat. Even women drive big pickups with gun racks. Cowboy boots and Stetsons are standard business wear.
It’s not just big hats and steaks that make Texans larger than life. They see themselves as the high priests guarding the American Dream, where a man can roam free and get rich carving his personal empire from limitless possibilities. This is not just dusty nostalgia; Texans really believe this. You do not know America and what created Donald Trump if you don’t know Texans and their Lone Star State.
States guard their autonomy against the federal government with stubborn jealousy, but none more fiercely than Texas. Their cultural bullheadedness was highlighted by two events this week that show different sides of the phenomenon that is Texas and the right-wing heartland that is the closest the Republican party has to a soul: the death of Rush Limbaugh and; the big winter freeze of 2021.
Rush, the grand-daddy of all radio ‘shock jocks’ died rom lung cancer at age 70. After the Reagan administration removed all requirements for radio stations to be balanced in the opinions they broadcast, in the 1980s, Limbaugh was the first to realise the entertainment value of provocative right-wing statements made on air. He spawned many imitators but was himself eventually syndicated across over 750 radio stations
Limbaugh took no prisoners, playing to a gallery of resentful whites who saw their former prosperity lavished on others. He talked provocatively of “Barack the Magic Negro,” of “femiNazis,” claiming “Liberals are socialists.” He railed against “the redistribution of tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving”. This spilled over into the ‘attack dog’ tactics of Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party in the 1990s. This led the Republican Pavlovian opposition to all that Obama tried to do and laid the foundation for varied right-wing reactionary groups and thinking that got Trump elected in 2016. Nowhere does all this find more fertile ground than in Texas.
Which brings us to this week’s Big Freeze and over 3.5 million Texans without power or clean water. Ever since the Alamo, Texans have taken pride in doing things their way. So, in the 1930s when power grids were being laid across the land, Texas declined to be part of any federal project that might dictate how they did things. So they built their own. And in a state with neither sales nor income tax, money was tight and corners were cut, meaning details, like resilience against poor weather, were left out. This week, flocks of chickens came home to roost as power stations shut down with the cold and natural gas supplies to those that didn’t froze.
You might think this called for some humble pie among the Republican Governor, city mayors and sundry officials. Not a bit of it. Colorado City mayor Tim Boyd got his rebuttal in first on Facebook:
“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handout. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish”
If this isn’t a timely, if unintended, tribute to Rush Limbaugh and all his works, I don’t know what is. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry blamed “liberal ideas” for creating the crisis, as wind turbines had frozen. But these account for under 10% of Texas’s power. Abbott claimed “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”
Rick Perry, former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, publicly warned against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business. Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.”
Rush may be gone, but his spirit is alive and well and running the Lone Star state. However, a less well publicised tidbit, relating to Texas’ woeful response to the freeze is that Governor Abbott has quietly contacted FEMA and accepted 60 generators and a quantity of diesel to keep the lights on at key locations like hospitals.
Given this level of blinkered partisanship goes a long way to explain the slavish Trump acolytes like Sen, Ted Cruz (R TX). As recently as last August, he was mocking “California’s failed energy policies” He us reported to have fled to the Mexican tropical resort of Cancun to escape the freeze…or the embarrassment.
Given his unswerving loyalty to whatever Trump did or said, there are many outside Texas who prefer that he does not return—especially if he invites the likes of Abbott and Boyd to join him.