No doubt many Republicans expressing outrage at the failures producing this disaster — and calling for accountability and reform — are sincere in their intentions, though we’ll see how long those demands persist.
But it’s painfully obvious that in an important larger sense, many aspects of their reaction to the Texas calamity do indeed demonstrate the future they want.
It’s a future in which the default response to large public problems will be to increasingly retreat from real policy debates into an alternate information universe, while doubling down on scorched-earth distraction politics and counter-majoritarian tactics to insulate themselves from accountability.
In response to the Texas disaster, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott blamed renewable energy sources.
“Our wind and our solar got shut down,” Abbott said on Fox News, adding that this “thrust Texas” into a “situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”
Numerous other Republican elected officials made similar claims, as did many conservative and Fox News personalities.
But as a Post fact check shows, the real culprit is a combination of factors. The state is far more reliant on natural gas than on wind power. The shutdown of plants relying on natural gas caused a far larger loss of power than frozen wind turbines did.
Meanwhile, the lack of regulation of Texas’s stand-alone grid — and the faulty structure of financial incentives in the state — discouraged preparation for unexpectedly cold weather. In short, the disaster makes a strong case for more government planning for extreme weather fluctuations — a problem generally exacerbated by climate change — and for more infrastructure fortification.
The thing is that Abbott knows renewable energy isn’t to blame. Elsewhere, he has admitted that natural gas and coal failures played a key role. Yet the lure of retreating into the Fox News universe — and spewing nonsense he knows will resonate there — is irresistible.
Nothing but phony anti-elite posturing
Meanwhile, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) took the anti-elite posturing to towering heights of stupidity, claiming President Biden “is nice and warm in his fossil-fueled White House singing kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans are freezing to death.”
This is a strange non sequitur. After all, Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Texas, and the administration is responding to Texas’s own requests for emergency equipment.
And the grid’s failure strengthens the case for just the sort of infrastructure fortification — that is, the sort of problem solving — that Biden himself wants to undertake. But for Boebert, this is nothing more than an occasion for more empty culture-war signaling.
And former Texas governor Rick Perry said this: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”
The argument that enduring these hardships is worth it to keep federal regulation at bay is a terrible one, but one can genuinely believe it on principle. Yet Perry is also absurdly claiming that this is a cautionary tale against transitioning to sustainable energy.
So not only is Perry arguing against more federal action against future disasters, he’s also falling back on absurdities that play only inside the Fox News universe to sidestep a real debate over the actual trade-offs involved.
We need a language to explain this
Democrats are finding their way toward a language to capture all this. In an excellent interview with Chris Hayes, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro suggested that the federal government should expand its disaster response and help rebuild Texas’s grid — which stands alone, resulting in what experts decry as insufficient state regulation — to make it more reliable.
“Don’t ever put people who don’t believe in government in charge of government,” Castro said.
Yet Democrats can go further here. They can tie the general GOP hostility to governing to the Republican retreat into anti-empiricism, and to the party’s increasing commitment to making it harder to vote and to rigging electoral maps to capture a larger share of power than the proportion of votes they receive.
We’re living through the Texas power shortage, the massive governing failures resulting in nearly half a million Americans dead from a foreseeable pandemic, a horrific economic collapse, and the deep racial and economic equities the past year has stripped bare.
All these suggest a future that will require more and better government, a redoubled commitment to empiricism as the basis for governing and more in the way of serious public service genuinely oriented toward good-faith conceptions of the common good.
Instead, we’re seeing Republicans respond to large public challenges by increasingly retreating into Foxlandia — an alternate universe where empty culture-war posturing can proceed undisturbed before a hermetically sealed-off audience that is fluent in that verlan.
Meanwhile, Republicans are increasingly insulating themselves from accountability at the hands of the broad political mainstream with a redoubled commitment to voter suppression and counter-majoritarian tactics.
A good stab at the big picture came from former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke. He described Texas as a “failed state” and linked the power failure to Republicans’ broader reluctance to act on the coronavirus and to fund robust financial assistance amid deepening economic misery.
“They’d like to spend more time on Hannity talking about the Green New Deal and wind turbines than they would in trying to help those who desperately need it right now,” O’Rourke told Nicolle Wallace.
This is the future many Republicans want.