It has now been nearly two months since Texas began its COVID-19 experiment assailing the civil liberties of its citizens. While the response from Austin was more measured than other highly populated states, the results were proportionally damaging not only to Texans and to our economy, but to any semblance of the trust that existed between the elected and the governed. Nevertheless, this experience has taught us a great deal about Texas, Texans, and Washington. DC. Here are 11 key takeaways.
The Texas Political Class Has (Only Slightly) Less Draconian Tendencies than Other States
I must admit, I have spent a lot of time over the years defending the sensibilities of Texans in general, and even the good sense of many of our state politicians when compared to their national counterparts. However, the COVID-19 debacle has taught me that our politicians are nearly as likely to react with the herd mentality (or, depending upon your level of cynicism, chasing the almighty federal disaster dollar) as any other state. Although kudos to Governor Abbott for not actively enforcing recommendations and directives at the state level, and for not pressing hot-button issues like closing churches, I was nevertheless saddened that we followed the footsteps of lesser states in closing “non-essential” businesses and the like. What is a “non-essential” business anyhow? Why were Amazon and Wal-mart still able to cater to “non-essential” needs and impulse purchases while folks couldn’t get a decent haircut? The picking of winners and losers is the maddening and un-Texan aspect, along with not recognizing the inherent right of Texans to decide for themselves what they consider to be risky or what advice to heed or avoid on their own accord. It seemed to me that as the weeks wore on that Texans gradually seemed to recognize that everybody but strippers and stylists were considered essential.
Parents Can Teach As Well Or Better Than The Government
One thing I heard over and over from friends and family during this crisis was that parents were learning that, while there were some truly outstanding teachers out there, many of their children’s instructors weren’t as invested as they supposed. Parents began discovering and often correcting deficiencies in their child’s repertoire of skills because they were confronted with them daily.
To-Go and Delivered Alcohol Is Just the Beginning
One of the things that I will absolutely give kudos to Governor Abbott for is cleverly chipping away at the insidious regulations during this crisis. We’ve seen the memes heralding the dawn of delivery and to-go alcohol in Texans and let me say: Texans are thrilled. And they should be, but why did we have these insidious restrictions in the first place? Why does it take a pandemic and (possibly tyrannical) executive action to dismantle it. Legislators: do your job and get rid of senseless laws and licensing restrictions!
Texas Can Absolutely Maintain a Border with Other States
Residents of Texas along the Louisiana border were very aware of measures taken by the state to limit travel. Sadly, the hastily erected border checkpoints were already at least as effective than federal border control along Texas’s southern border. Often, when Texas independence is thrown around in casual conversation, this is one of the first “gotchas” that critics like to throw out. The COVID-19 response should be the first counter-example given as to how Texas is perfectly capable of patrolling its border with the US.
Tyrants are Everywhere
Texans witnessing the unfolding lock down saw the hints of the descent into tyranny with their own eyes. Astute Texans now recognize that law enforcement (contrary to popular belief) will absolutely do what they are told, even if that order is to harass business owners trying to feed their families or use SWAT to shut down a bar outside of Odessa. Even if you haven’t been paying attention to the news, we’re betting you have your own stories.
Many companies handed out “essential” travel paperwork to facilitate the ability of citizens to move freely. A foreboding warning to what this could have devolved into (had the whole charade not been rendered to hilarity when we all found out that merely traveling to/from an essential business was reason enough to be on the road: “sorry, officer, I was heading back from Lowe’s just now because I decided COVID was a great time to build an add-on to my house!”). Nevertheless, in the initial few days of this debacle, I think all of us imagined an East German experience in our future, which sadly was the reality for residents of other states.
Texans Don’t Blindly Submit to Authority
Perhaps the most encouraging observation of this whole affair is that, while most folks in other states seem to relish being told what to do and where to stick it, Texans don’t take senseless executive directives from their County Commissioners and Judges. Most of us have cheered for Shelly Luther’s bravery and dignity in the face of an absolutely tyrannical judiciary. We’ve also enjoyed picking on the moron of the Ector County Sheriff’s Department for their absolutely preposterous tactical swat raid of an open bar outside of Odessa.
Texans pull together and help each other; willingly wearing masks if asked. But forcing businesses to close and preventing free citizens from soliciting particular establishments, all while other equally non-essential businesses remain open is un-Texan and quite contrary to the Texas constitution (see Art. I, Sec 17 of the Texas Constitution).
Texans Need the Ability to Recall EVERY Elected Official
Due to the copious abuses we’ve seen from judges, county commissioners, and even governors, Texans should now be fully aware that our liberties can be stripped quickly and effectively by local and state officials. On a positive note, the efficacy of such measures really depend upon the compliance of the people, and I believe Texans will be far less compliant the next go-round. You might speculate that the government gets one chance at this in a generation. The next time, I doubt Texans will just hunker down at home, even with official decree. Nevertheless, elected officials have truly expansive authority and Texans should absolutely have the right to recall any elected official, at any time.
The Powers of the Governor Violate the Bill of Rights
The forced closure of business is the same as taking businesses over for public use. As mentioned, this is a violation of Art I, Sec 17 of the constitution and, make no mistake, there will be legal battles about this for the next decade. The bills that have been passed that have theoretically given the governor broad emergency powers are a clear violation of our constitution, and should be repealed and struck down by the judiciary.
The Texas Legislature Squandered Their Opportunity to Prepare
Although COVID-19 turned out to not be nearly as lethal as supposed in the US, this event gives us the opportunity to reflect on what the outcome would have been if the 5% plus death rate had been a reality in Texas. Clearly our medical system would have been overwhelmed, and the state would have been again at the mercy of the Federal Government for funding and supplies. Maybe instead of squandering Texans’ hard-earned dollars into unaccountable pet projects (such as George P. Bush’s Alamo Re-Imagining), perhaps the legislature could plan and maintain funding for disasters in the form of hurricanes, fires, or disease. A welcome change from waiting for Washington DC. to ride in to save us since we all know that blustering incompetence inevitably follows.
Governor Abbott Is Not the Leader We Thought
We’ve seen many heroes in past months, such as Shelly Luther who stood firm in Dallas, or Kristi Noem, who refused to close businesses and issue lockdowns during the pandemic. Unfortunately, Greg Abbott towed the party line, stayed with the crowd, and tried to keep his head down. Certainly, had he defied the Federal Government, Abbott would have been a quick target for the President to throw under the bus, just as he did with Georgia’s Governer Kemp. However, I believe the Governor of Texas should always be more than a match for a sitting President. Was not Texas once its own nation? Certainly we have earned, through the blood of our patriots at the Alamo and Goliad, the right to handle emergencies in our own way. However, Governor Abbott constantly deferred to, praised, and acquiesced to federal authority and I believe that this behavior is un-Texan. I would like to remind folks that it was just a few years ago that we had Texas troops monitor Federal troops operations within Texas because of the level of distrust that existed. Are we really that partisan and non-principled? Should we suddenly trust everything from the White House since a Republican is in office?
Final Bonus Takeaway
Of course the big takeaway from all this is that the Federal Government was predictably incompetent. (Fair warning, I’m not laying the blame of all this on the President—I think we are all painfully aware that the Federal Government has been incompetent for our entire lifetime). First, the CDC completely botched the testing, meaning that the entire nation was flying blind for the first month of the pandemic. Then, the federal government told the people that in mere days testing locations would be set up everywhere and that folks would have quick and easy access to testing. This didn’t transpire in anything near the time frame that was promised.
Most significantly, we were all witnesses to the reality that federalism is dead, despite the early claims to the contrary. I am sure that many, including myself, were heartened to see President Trump give governors most of the authority on how to manage the response on a per-state basis. Many suggested that this was evidence of the great small-government principles of the President, but we were given a treat that let those hopes crash upon the beaches of Galveston (if you were paying attention, if not, go to about 50 seconds in). Indeed, even while the Federal government botches what it is currently responsible for, it also believes that it is all-powerful at the expense of the states.
I don’t care what your party affiliation is, folks. Texas can govern themselves better than can Washington—it won’t even be close. We are Texans. Our time is coming. Let us be ready to lift our heads and stand once more among the nations.