Trainwreck Texas

The conversation turns to politics. My confounding love of Texas reveals an affliction that leads us all to experience as much joy as frustration.

Trainwreck Texas
Pedernales Falls State Pa

We were out in the Texas Hill Country down where Ranch Road 3232 makes a T-head into Fitzhugh Park Road. A quick jog to the right will take you into the entrance of Pedernales Falls State Park, or you can pull straight ahead into the gravel lot of the Trading Post. There seem to be no evenings there without lively conversation, cold beer, music, and the laughter of children running a bit wild and free beneath the live oaks. The Pedernales River, gliding over limestone beds, is a hike behind the deck and down an easy hill.

The Trading Post

A group of us sat at a long picnic table, celebrating Meggy’s birthday. A band from just down the road in Johnson City was covering old standards up on the deck, only steps from the beer taps. The lyrics of Bob Seger, a Michigan boy, floated off through the trees and night climbed slowly up over the hills as Texas stars began to tilt with the last light of a long day in May. The new faces I saw were Daniel and Rachel, inevitable future friends because of his interest and love in Texas and her obsession with politics. As the conversation took its predictable turn, Torsten spun on the picnic bench and offered his wise counsel.

“No politics!” He was damn near shouting to be heard over the music and the muggy wind up from the Gulf and he faced away from the ensuing chatter.

“Nothing I can do about it,” I said.

“Jaja,” was his dismissive German response.

Daniel and I talked Texas for a bit and his knowledge of the state seemed to have a deceptive breadth for a relatively recent European immigrant, which I concluded exceeded that of most native sons. Rachel, determined to hear a hopeful political perspective about the late, great state, was having trouble being heard across the table and sat down next to me with the most essential of questions.

“So,” she asked. “What do we do about Texas?”

“No simple questions from you, then, eh?” I asked. “Only answer I have is vote, vote, and vote. And not for our current governor or any candidate running under the banner of a Republican.”

I have not even a shred of comprehension that might lead to an understanding of how any Texan can support Greg Abbott. He is not a conservative and has only reckless, wanton ambition, which causes him to use tax dollars to fund his dreams of glory. They leadeth him into temptation, endlessly, and to a place of enduring harm to the people he is supposed to be helping.

The putative governor, who has used suffering on the border to attract attention to himself and avoid solving the problem, cost Texas and this country an estimated $9 billion dollars in gross domestic product when he shut down international bridges by ordering spurious inspections of trucks crossing over from Mexico. The posture he assumed was an insistence that cartels were using commercial tractor trailers and panel trucks to smuggle drugs and humans, which is not false; nor is it a revelation. In fact, the large government complex in Washington, DC, the one Abbott despises but hopes to one day run, spends incalculable amounts of money on human resources, technology, and specially trained dogs to stop contraband at the Mexican frontier.

The effort displeases the governor, who seemingly cannot be satisfied by any effort put forth by a Democrat. Ingeniously, Abbott developed a plan to perform precisely the same inspections as the feds, but without dogs or personnel trained to look for signs of smuggling. State troopers ran safety inspections on big rigs, found no drugs or huddled humans in cargo bays, but some dripping oil pans, bad tires, and cracked windshields. The worthless work slowed down trans-border commerce for days and brought a significant portion of the economy, about which Abbott brags tirelessly, to a relative standstill. Perishable foods perished on trucks, manufacturing stopped when parts didn’t arrive, and technology was not connected to commerce.

The two-wheeled emperor and his ill-advised advisors were not intelligent enough to anticipate the backlash everyone else foresaw the moment they heard news of his ordered blockade. Outrage was universal on both sides of the border. Abbott’s decision implied neither Mexican authorities nor American were taking sufficient steps to stop illegal crossings of people and illicit products. Facing ridicule within his own cabal of clowns, the governor sought to justify his capriciousness by getting Mexican border governors to sign documents committing to work very hard at stopping drug and human traffickers while still in their Mexican states. They probably had never even thought of such a thing until Abbott shut down the border.

In Mexico City, they tallied up his stupidity and calculated a final cost. For decades, Mexico has been planning to build a massive rail and road trade corridor from its west coast up through Texas to midwestern markets. One of the finest natural deep-water ports in the world at Topolobampo, Mexico, would take in the great freighters from China and the Australasian manufacturing centers and then transfer those containers for conveyance to U.S. consumers along a route known as La Entrada al Pacifico. The concept has been slow to develop and travelers across the Trans Pecos are often confused by the aspirational highway signs identifying the unrealized route.

Topolobampo, Mexico

Mexico’s visionaries have also conjured up a new plan for a rail corridor to connect their country to Canada. An ambitious undertaking that will make use of border crossings, new and extant rail that are also connected to that nation’s inter-coastal highway, which already serves Concho River Valley farms and runs from the west coast resorts to the tip of Texas. The economic boom on the Texas-Mexico border would have become sonic were it not for the impetuous little man whose heart runs on hatred.

Old Mexico has decided, in the wake of Abbott’s pricey border blockade, to run its redesigned trade trails up through New Mexico and onward to the markets in Canada and the East. Why not? The first route commercially connecting Santa Fe to border cattle near Presidio, known then as La Junta de los Rios, was the Chihuahua Trail. The new version will be trod by steel wheels rather than the hooves of longhorn cattle, but it will also be considerably more lucrative and make Texans wonder why in the hell they ever let Greg Abbott near the governor’s mansion. Mexican authorities said they “did not want to held hostage to someone who uses trade as a political tool.”

Abbott and his lickspittles say they are simply doing the job on the border that the federal government is ignoring, which is an admission of failure on his part and the state’s. Immigration has only gone up since he started wasting time and money to play commander in thief of tax dollars and tough guy for the national conservative base. Let the feds waste their money if it is all doomed to failure. If Abbott and Texas Trumpers really wanted to stop undocumented immigration, they would pass state and federal laws making it a felony to hire people who don’t have proper paperwork. They’ll never do that, of course, because their profits in housing, construction, agriculture, hospitality, and damn near every industry in Texas comes from the low wages paid undocumented workers.

Mexico does not need any additional reasons to wonder why it bothers to have a relationship with Texas. Our governor has fundamentally militarized the entire frontier along the big border river. Soldiers and state troopers sit and stare across into Old Mexico or drive lonely roads looking for a desperate immigrant to confront and reduce to custody. The law hopes to rack up a metric or two simply to justify the billions being poured into Abbott’s grand charade, but the numbers don’t look good and they’ve had to arrest people a long way from the border to get their numbers up. Originally, he convinced legislative lemmings to give him some tax dollars, but it also looks like he might have played a shell game with federal pandemic relief funds from Washington. That government in DC that Abbott hates sent a raft of cash to help Texans recover from Covid and it was apparently too tempting for the xenophobe to ignore.

The feds are now investigating the governor for taking money intended for state agencies like Health and Human Services and spending it on cops and guns and gasoline and shipping containers to block the border instead of aiding his state’s ill and dying. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Inspector General has opened an inquiry into Abbott’s apparently illicit use of pandemic relief funds.  A Washington Post analysis indicates Texas “leaders rerouted public health and safety funds to their border operations, while relying on federal pandemic funds to replace some of the money.” Strutting for his political base, the governor has wasted $4 billion dollars on his Operation Lone Star and the independent analysis suggests at least $1 billion of that money was intended for pandemic assistance for suffering and dying Texans.

The quality of lives in the non-political-donor class of Texas residents is not of major concern for Greg Abbott, though. In the Great Grid Collapse of 2021, the Texas Department of Health and Human services “estimated 246 people died from freezing, carbon monoxide, and medical emergencies caused by the lack of electricity.” No juice was flowing because important parts of generators and natural gas pipeline delivery systems froze. Everyone in the energy industry in the state, including the governor and his multiple appointments to the Public Utility Commission, knew the system was broken but there was no political pressure or order to update operations. Instead, the operators of the Texas grid were allowed to keep the rigged system sputtering on outdated technology because they were financially tight with Abbott. Hell, he even ordered the CEO of the grid to keep electricity at an unjustified $9000 per megawatt hour for days longer than necessary, maybe, just maybe because his energy industry pals might make a few more billion. They did, and one of them, Kelcy Warren, the biggest profiteer off the storm and the misery of others, gave his pal Greg a million dollar donation. That’s how politics works in Texas, by God.

Or doesn’t work. Even though he promised it would be fine and not falter again, Abbott is wrong about yet another thing. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose name was not intended to be freighted with irony, urged Texans during an early heat wave in the middle of this month of May, to hold off using power for large appliances between 3 and 8 p.m. and keep those thermostats set to 78. Don’t worry, though, just because six power plants failed as the hottest days of 2022 approached it doesn’t mean you will get to experience what the frontier was like without air conditioning. The governor promised, which is like a guarantee you’ll get rich in Bitcoin.

Texas is turning into a political wasteland where a million children go without health care, the power grid fizzles under a normal load, and we waste billions militarizing a border with our most important trading partner while ignoring basic human rights of its citizens. Women live in fear they will be forced to leave their homes because they need a procedure that used to be a protected personal right guaranteed under the constitution, and book banning has become a popular new past time determined to cause the intellectual desertification of our children’s minds.

Who the hell are we if we let these things happen?

I’m going to ride back out to the Trading Post and grab a beer and sit the sun. Maybe I will get Mary Lou and Torsten and Bine and Uli and Meggy and Daniel and Rachel and Christopher and Manuela to hang out with me and watch the sun go down behind the live oaks. We can wait until the radical zombies from the right come through the tree line to take our rights because they see us on their left. Maybe we can drive a fact through one of their hearts and see if that’s fatal to their ignorance. I am doubtful, though. Our sunless days are drawing near, and no one seems able to stop the bastards.

I remain tortured in a blissful way by my love of Texas. The history and geography, the weather and culture, the mythologies that make up the interstitial material of belonging, the lingering essence of a frontier ethic. But I hate our goddamned politics and the indicted leaders and the influence peddlers like our governor who sells his constituents out for an energy magnate’s checkbook. I’ll always take a sunny day on a motorcycle riding a Texas road heading west, but I’ve begun to worry that someday I’ll cross into the “land of enchantment” and never return.

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