It was ironic that Abbott made his announcement on Texas Independence Day. For many of us Texans, what we desperately need is to be free from a GOP leadership that has put our safety last at every turn since the pandemic began. Abbott’s decision to lift occupancy limits on businesses and other restrictions is reckless and premature. If you are unvaccinated in Texas — as most of us still are — the message is clear: You’re on your own.
Then again, none of this is surprising. The Texas GOP’s necropolitics have been on full display during this pandemic year. Last March, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that grandparents in Texas should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the state’s economy. When Abbott reopened the state in May, the move quickly resulted in a spike of cases, and he was forced to backtrack.
Now Abbott has thrust Texans back into the reopen rodeo show, and so here we go again. This time Abbott impressed on his listeners that the end of the mask mandate “does not end personal responsibility.” What about the responsibility of government?
It’s hard not to roll one’s eyes at Abbott’s lecturing — he reportedly wasn’t even responsible enough to directly consult with expert members of his own coronavirus task force before deciding to reopen. Then, once criticism rolled in, he tried to scapegoat immigrants crossing the border as the reason for the spread of covid-19 in Texas. It’s all of a piece with Sen. Ted Cruz’s reprehensible decision to book a vacation to Cancún, Mexico, last month while Texans were literally freezing to death as the energy grid collapsed. The Texas GOP’s song and dance is familiar: Elected Texas officials fail to act to advance the well-being of their constituents, while ordinary Texans are reminded of our “personal responsibility.”
Just two weeks ago, the breakdown of Texas’s deregulated energy grid forced millions of Texans to go without power, heat and water for days during record-low temperatures; more than 30 people lost their lives due to these system failures. Many Texans, myself included, had little choice but to break social-distancing protocols and shelter with friends, family or even strangers. If Abbott and the rest of the state leadership think that this Hail Mary reopening will distract us from the misery that we went through with the power-grid collapse, they should think again.
And a side note for my non-Texan friends: The state leadership does not represent all of Texas. Some commentators have reacted to Abbott’s move by suggesting that Texans don’t deserve vaccines, but that ignores the fact that tens of millions of Texans did not vote for any of this. Voter groups have worked for years to end the gerrymandering and voter suppression that have enabled Republicans to put such unserious men in power.
For all the national focus on the Apathetic Abbotts and the Cancún Cruzes, there are many Texans across the state who have been responsible, listened to science, stayed home, masked up and done what was necessary to protect themselves. I have friends who own small businesses who already struggle with belligerent customers who feel they don’t need a mask; how much worse will that be now? I know health-care workers who have hit their mental and emotional breaking points caring for dying covid-19 patients. Leaders in major cities across Texas, including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo — both of whom have slammed Abbott’s measures — have served their cities with accurate, science-based information and policy.
Many of my friends and family will continue to wear masks, socially distance and avoid unnecessarily risky situations until we get the vaccine. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to enjoy the spring at our favorite restaurants. I want to go to the State Fair. We want nothing more than to make sure that our communities stay afloat and that our industries thrive.
But right now, living in Texas feels like an exercise in just trying to survive. Spring will come and in time — one hopes — covid-19 will go. But until we break free from the grip of deathly irresponsible GOP leadership, the one economic sector that stands to benefit will be Texas’s funeral industry.