Like millions of others in the state of Texas after a winter storm decimated our electrical grid, I spent much of last week shivering in the cold darkness. And just around the time I was beginning to lose the feeling in my toes, Ted Cruz was at Bush International Airport in Houston waiting to board his flight to Cancún.
I learned this only when I finally turned my phone back on to let my family and friends know that I hadn’t died of hypothermia. My battery may have been hemorrhaging power at the worst possible time, but at least I learned that Cruz’s shallowness and stupidity had gotten the best of him. First he blamed the trip on wanting to be a good dad; then he claimed that his plan was always to return the next day. But as funny as it was to find out that it was Cruz family “friends” who helped exposed his lie, it’s harder to laugh off that Cruz had to be shamed to fly back home and pretend to give a fuck about the needs of his constituents in a time of crisis.
Not only did Cruz scapegoat his daughters for his grotesque selfishness, but when he returned home to repair his image — that is, hand out a few bottles of water and get a tongue bath from Fox News — he did so at the risk of others. Even the the state of Texas has no Covid-19 restrictions for travelers, a sitting senator returning from another country should be setting a better example. Cruz could even have spent his quarantine time learning how to help his fellow Houstonians and Texans in need.
For guidance on how to do the job of an elected official, Cruz might have turned to his fellow local elected officials, like Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia R. Garcia, who (along with New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) have spent their time raising money, volunteering at the Houston Food Bank, and providing on-the-ground assistance. Even former elected Texas leaders, like Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro, could have helped Cruz figure out how to be actually useful. Not that trolling Twitter for attention isn’t a great use of one’s time, but Cruz could have done a better job of pretending to give a damn — or, if nothing else, he could have had the decency to fly private while so many of us suffered alone in the dark.
I know Cruz doesn’t care that many of us spent last week using baby wipes and bottled water to clean our bodies while worrying about what pipe damage might have caused to our homes. Or how much of a struggle it was to find hot food. Or how terrifying it must have been for those of us enduring all of this by themselves. But to be this smug about his lack of concern for our plight will make me resent his punk ass for as long as I can type.
Cruz did eventually admit that his trip was a “mistake,” but by Monday morning, he was back to pontificating and bullshitting in pursuit of power. During the confirmation hearing of Merrick Garland for attorney general, the man who had just been shamed for fleeing his constituents in dire need (on top of being widely condemned for helping inspire a bunch of racist insurrectionists one month prior) was lecturing the federal appellate judge on the importance of integrity.
I don’t believe there are lakes of fire awaiting the wicked in the afterlife, but Texans like Ted Cruz push me to leave room for hope.
What last week showed us is that even non-Trumpist Republicanism boils down to being flagrantly dismissive of human suffering. (They’re familiar with boiling down; it’s how we made our water safe to cook with once it started coming through the faucets again.)
Likewise for Gov. Greg Abbott. Much like Cruz, Abbott is less interested in governing and more about performing for the brainwashed bigots who consume conservative media and make up the GOP voter base. By last Tuesday afternoon, chaos was already widespread, yet the only sound the governor made was to blame the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electrical grid. Abbott angrily accused the council of withholding information “even with the governor of Texas.”
About that: ERCOT being trash has been common knowledge for at least a decade. After winter storms in 2011 caused blackouts, recommendations were made to make the state’s grid better able to contend with winter weather — but nothing was ever done. Abbott may not have been elected governor until 2014, but he had held statewide office as early as 2002, so he knew well how the 1999 deregulation pushed by former Gov. George W. Bush had led to a bevy of potentially catastrophic problems. And when Abbott became governor, he still did nothing about it.
You might think last week’s disaster presented a perfect opportunity for reflection. Evidently not. When Abbott finally spoke at length later that night about the nightmare happening in his state, he left the truth behind in favor of owning the libs. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
This is the governor of Texas faulting proposed legislation — that is, something that is not policy — for a life-and-death crisis that happened on his watch.
While Ted Cruz may be a liar, he anticipated this very outcome two years ago when he tweeted that the “success” of Texas’ energy system “was built over many years on principles of free enterprise & low regulation w more jobs & opportunities as the constant goal.” In other words, this is exactly what happens when a public utility is placed in the greedy hands of private companies without regulation. This is a predatory system, mostly bolstered by Republicans (with some Democratic support along the way), which not only left us to rot but has since proceeded to overcharge customers statewide.
Yet, the “get big government off our backs” party line persists. “Texans would [go] without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” said former Gov. Rick Perry last week.
As a born and bred Texan, I speak for many of my statespeople when I say this: Fuck Rick Perry.
Abbott called an emergency meeting about the “skyrocketing costs” on Sunday — but he can’t get those charges reversed, so why not just tap into that rainy day fund, which holds more than $10 billion, to help as suggested. If people can’t even be decent enough to be honest about a problem, I doubt they’ll be very charitable in their efforts to help solve it. Can Abbott at least let his attorney general know that it’s not a good look to flee the state when it’s in crisis?
Donald Trump and his grip on the party aside, what last week showed us — especially those of us who went for days without power and water — is that even non-Trumpist Republicanism boils down to being flagrantly dismissive of human suffering. (They’re familiar with boiling down; it’s how we made our water safe to cook with once it started coming through the faucets again.) Is that breaking news? No, but still it makes me leery of a future where shallow, ignorant men wield the powers of government while believing those powers give them the right to ignore our humanity without consequence.
Just when I thought I was numb to the reality that this country is full of political leaders willing to let its citizens suffer and die, this latest American travesty has reminded me of how frightening it feels in real time. My power might be back, but my hope is not.