The First Reich of Texas

“The house that you live in will never fall down when you pity the stranger that stands at your gate.” - Lightfoot

The First Reich of Texas

Every time there is a new tortuous political development in Texas I begin to wonder if I am suffering from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome by continuing to live in this state. I used to get angry over unfair funding for public schools and wondered how anyone might argue the government is living up to its constitutional mandate for an equal education, but that controversy seems almost quaint in the context of what has happened to Texas during the Abbott Administration. All the conservatives who have long insisted they want less government are seemingly able to ignore the invasions of privacy and personal rights being conducted by Texas Republicans. I know the majority of this state voted overwhelmingly to reelect a man who has as much human emotion as an Internet chatbot, but I also know what is taking place down here is carcinogenic to actual freedom.

The examples of our decline are many and manifest. The latest is an astonishment perpetrated by our multi-indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has managed to avoid being brought to justice for six years. Instead, he is consorting with the state’s governor to gather resources to make life miserable for people struggling with their sexual identity. Paxton sent a request to the Department of Public Safety wanting to know how many people had changed their gender on state drivers’ licenses. According to the Texas Tribune, there were more than 16,000 instances but to determine why the changes were made would require manual searches, which were too time-consuming and expensive in terms of staff hours.

What in the hell do Abbott and Paxton need with such information? How is it any of their business? They appear determined to make lives miserable for people who are already dealing with a biological crisis that generally requires familial anxiety, expensive therapies and even risky surgeries, and adjusting to an existence that probably causes more psychic and emotional struggling than anything most people can imagine. Regardless, Texas is out to get them and they ought to be running scared. Until a court intervened, Abbott had ordered state investigations into gender-affirming care as a potential form of child abuse. The conservative legislature has plans to pass more than a dozen new laws that are considered anti-LGBTQ in the coming session in January, including criminalizing the delivery of gender-affirming care and surgical procedures. Abbott, always out front in craven and hateful thinking, had already signed a bill into law that banned transgender kids from taking part in school sports that are offered for students with their gender identity.

Invading privacy by seeking out names and addresses from DPS is only a logical step for the tarry substances that comprise the minds of Texas state officeholders and Republican politicians. Maybe Abbott had in mind a yellow Star of David to be added to every transgender person’s driver’s license, and he wanted to send them extra stickers in the mail to put on their cars, computers, and luggage. The state’s consistently venomous Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has already pushed a bathroom bill to force public school students to use facilities that match their birth gender, a toxic political battle he lost while still claiming victory, saying it’s no longer needed because public pressure caused schools to change their rules of behavior.

The All Wrong Trio

What possible need, though, we have to keep asking, does the state have for this information? Are Paxton and Abbott determined to see that people don’t transition? In what possible way can the biology of a private person affect the rest of the state’s citizens that two radically conservative and meddling politicians feel a need to intervene and make lives miserable? The Washington Post reported that Paxton’s office requested the information one month after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the AG and the governor had gone too far in trying to investigate families for child abuse if they had transgender children. His office reportedly wanted total numbers of gender changes and later expected delivery of a list of names of people who had received a legal sex change. The constitutional issues are obvious and include due process and discrimination based on sex.

But this is the kind of Texas its citizens have chosen, and by a wide margin, one that empowers their leaders to worship a discount store version of God, who answers prayers by telling them to lionize the compliant and ostracize and punish “the least of these.” Regardless of what the zealots of the state’s GOP might think, people do not choose their sexual orientation or their gender, and if they did, why would they decide to select a life of struggle with friends and family and colleagues and make their personal and professional existences into one of eternal apprehension. Who we are is delivered to us by nature in our DNA. Being transgender is not some act of cultural rebellion any more than being attracted to the same sex. It is simply, almost universally, who humans are when they exit the womb, which would be readily understandable to anyone who might consider absorbing a bit of science. Of course, we cannot expect as much from our governor and AG; they are too busy quoting scripture and wielding their sanctimony like a righteous sword.

If the best government is actually the one that governs least, what in the glory hell is the state of Texas doing invading the privacy of its citizens? The Texas GOP philosophy tends to leave alone those who follow the party’s banal conservatism but it goes after those who do not fit into the prescribed ideology. You can run your business any way you want as long as you don’t require your customers to wear a mask, which is an attack on their privacy, not yours. The purpose of your choice to demand masks of your diners or shoppers is to keep yourself, employees, and others safe from the virus, but under Texas conservative government that choice is taken from you. You can do whatever you want in this state as long as what you are doing is not something our conservative leadership doesn’t approve of. You can walk into Starbucks with the “big iron on your hip,” but your children cannot read books in the school library about racism because that is subversive to Texas and America.

Greg Abbott and his acolytes like the simpering Dan Patrick and the obedient Ken Paxton will get up in your chili if they think you might be doing anything that makes them uncomfortable. The most recent example is the governor’s order to his manservant Paxton to investigate non-governmental, non-profit organizations that are helping immigrants at the border. Abbott said he had received reports that humanitarian groups “may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.” The report he “received” appears to have been a Fox News story about a caravan of 1000 immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande together into El Paso.

“Hope is a thing with feathers.” - Emily Dickinson

None of what transpired had anything to do with NGOs or non-profits in Texas. Mexican police reportedly escorted 20 buses full of migrants into Ciudad Juarez and dropped them all off at non-governmental organizations in that city, not El Paso. Agitated, Abbott, less than 48 hours later, sent a letter to pathetic Paxton, “calling on [him] to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders.” When asked by journalists what reports he was claiming had prompted his latest inquest, Abbott’s office refused to answer, which makes a bit of sense given that the only thing he could reasonably say with any credibility was, “I saw it on FOX News!!” His actual intention is to make certain no one sees immigrants as humans and that they are denied any humanitarian assistance. The good Christian fella can’t stand the idea of offering food, drink, and shelter to the outlanders shivering at our gate.

The goal is to intimidate non-profits and any group that is offering support to the immigrants. Abbott has no other purpose but to scare people away from feeding and clothing the foreigners he doesn’t want in his state. There is no evidence publicly available that any of the multiple NGOs working to provide assistance along the border have facilitated the illegal transit of people into the U.S. because, if there were, Abbott and Paxton would have cited it and made much noise about the transgressors, and would have quickly spun up indictments of some fashion. The difference between Abbott and the people working to help the dispossessed is that many of them are faith-based and acting on the principles of their beliefs while the governor does precisely the opposite of what his Christian faith instructs.

There is no question there is a humanitarian crisis up and down the Texas-Mexico border. The only real issue is what to do about it, how to manage the people, how to enforce the law. The idea that this has been caused by an “open border policy” by the president is patent nonsense. The Customs and Border Patrol have more people and technology at their disposal than any time in their history and the president has put in for billions more in funding from congress. If, however, Abbott and Paxton can suppress the delivery of temporary shelter and food and water, and more immigrants die as a consequence, it might have the curative effect he is seeking by letting the northbound travelers know their lives are at even greater risk than they already perceive. As I argued two weeks ago in this newsletter, this is also the goal of moving armored personnel carriers to the border. Eventually, there will be an incident and someone will die and word will go south and fear of traveling north will compete with the fear the potential immigrant has of never leaving their present situation that they find intolerable for themselves and their families. That’s all Greg Abbott wants; that’s not too much to ask for the governor who already has everything, is it?

Non-profits have, frankly, been critical to dealing with the crisis on this side of the border. Even Border Patrol officers and other federal law enforcement officials deliver immigrants to NGOs and non-profits after they have been processed. If there were no NGOs involved in helping, border cities might be overrun with homelessness, hunger, disease, and death. Abbott knows as much, and as another graphic example of his hypocrisy, he has worked with NGOs on his costly migrant busing program to deliver immigrants to northern cities. In fact, non-profits coordinate with the governor’s office on the time of bus arrivals at shelters on the border and even alert groups in the cities where the immigrants are being transported, which are Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. Probably more than 15,000 people have been given transportation north by the governor’s office, and their tickets paid for on buses chartered by Texas taxpayers. Abbott’s game would not be possible without his office working with NGOs and non-profits, a fact which he certainly doesn’t want anyone to know.

But you may be assured he is already thinking how he can make things even more dangerous in the future. I see gun turrets atop towers from El Paso to Boca Chica Beach at Brownsville. Put one foot in the river, and you get dusted. Texas law of the white man’s West. The gov doesn’t have a lot of money to accomplish his main goal of building a gigantic barrier between two of the world’s largest trading partners, but he’s putting up a fence wherever he can get land and access. Remember, good fences make good neighbors, and guns pointed at them make fearful neighbors. If he can deny the federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration and conduct his own border patrol and arrests, do you think he won’t take the next steps to stop people before they cross into Texas?

Meanwhile, he’s back to asking truckers for their papers. In April, Abbott ordered DPS to conduct what he called “enhanced inspections” at border crossings, a project that only lasted a few weeks because it caused about four billion dollars in economic damage because of long waits for trucks to enter the U.S. Despite the backups, no contraband or people being trafficked were discovered. Our gov will not be deterred, however, and he has once more issued an edict that troopers resume the inspections on a random basis, which means be careful if you are trucking while brown. The argument is that the lawmen are seeing to it that only safe equipment is on Texas roadways but many of these inspections are already conducted at the border, and how is a decision made to choose what truck to stop? Do they have a taillight out or a Mexican plate? U.S. trucks cross into Mexico and return constantly. How will they be parsed out for inspection? This seems like there are constitutional issues related to probable cause that ought to get a court to shut down random Texas government nonsense.

Maybe we’ll get a new state motto out of it, though: “Your paperz, pleez!”

James Moore is a New York Times bestselling author, political analyst, and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He writes frequently for CNN and other national media outlets and can be reached a