It seems like only the most punitive souls would enact legislation that mobilizes the dead hand of reactionism.
This website is predicated on the assumption that there are better, if not “perfect,” responses to exigencies that need remedies. Humans are problem solvers. Challenges that block our objectives are met with responses that—with some effort and empathy—provide suitable solutions or workarounds. In the realm of communication studies, “exigency theory” is a bedrock idea used to explain why humans are motivated to verbal or physical action. In this model, a policy that is enacted by a political unit should be a response that solves a persistent problem. Without this core assumption, the ongoing enterprises of our political life can’t make much sense. We rightly assume that policy is guided by the impulse to ameliorate a serious condition or injustice.
All of this brings us to the policy-making processes unfolding in some of the states. Many along the southern tier of the nation are benefiting from a continuous migration of families and corporate headquarters to warmer climates, where the candy of low tax rates and available workers easily outweighs sometimes failing school and social services. And this gives rise to a paradox.
Policies that have a basic effect of exposing people to greater risks are hard to fathom.
Political bodies particularly in Texas seem determined to enact policies that create challenges rather than alleviate them. Newly enacted laws that impose hardships on individuals are difficult to fathom, especially when it is evident that no greater social good is being served. Specifically, the state’s executive and deliberative bodies have faced several challenges where something approximating a perfect response eludes them. To be sure, we can have different policy preferences. But it seems like only the most punitive souls would enact legislation that mobilizes the dead hand of reactionism, for instance: allowing citizens to deputize themselves as bounty hunters to criminalize women or girls who are trying to end an ill-timed pregnancy; permitting firearms to be carried on to the campuses of public universities; prohibiting the teaching of the nation’s checkered racial and social history in schools; or forbidding institutions to require face masks to stem the spread of disease. These sorry examples of reactionary policy may help explain how a school administrator in the Lone Star State could have reminded teachers dealing with The Holocaust to be sure to teach “both sides.”
It is impossible to imagine how citizens are made safer or more secure by these examples of ersatz leadership. It only adds to our sense of dismay to know that seventeen members of the Texas congressional delegation sought to void the election of President Biden and disenfranchise four other states.
Of course, all of this pretends not to notice the obvious: that our political life has become a series of calculated set pieces: dramas of status and resistance intended to be more expressive than instrumental. We know the impulse when we would like to scold someone rather than try to find common ground. As the Austin-based journalist Molly Ivins once noted, “three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo.” None of these postures need much cooperation from others; they are also not up to the demands of policy-making in the 21st century.
Corporate Texas generally shelters itself against the rest of the state by settling in enclaves surrounding Austin, Houston or Dallas. But companies like A.T. & T., Frito-Lay, Dell Computer and (most recently) Tesla, need to begin to notice that they are at least indirectly enabling parties and candidates mobilized to sabotage the fragile machinery of governing. At least from the northeast, it is hard to see key political figures like Governor Greg Abbott as authentic public servants. At some point he must have supported actions to make the lives of his constituents better. But from a distance they are hard to find.