We are living in perilous times. In a move eerily coinciding with the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott is calling for a “Convention of the States”.
Abbott is horrified by the Supreme Court’s ability to make gay marriage legal. He accuses Barack Obama of “trying to disarm law-abiding Americans” through executive action.
The takeover in Oregon has been orchestrated by three sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who refused to pay the over $1 million in grazing fees he allegedly owes to the Bureau of Land Management.
This current spate of anti-fed agitation comes with not-so-subtle racial overtones. Cliven Bundy, patriarch of the wing of the militia movement responsible for the Oregon takeover, silenced supporters like Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz in 2014 when he opined that African Americans were better off when cotton was king and slavery was the law in Dixie.
Abbott is smart enough to avoid Bundy’s racial musings, but his states-rights rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of Lost Cause southern resentment.
The Texas governor knows he has little support among African-American and Latino voters and has decided to make the most of it. Realizing that the support of white conservatives is all he needs to dominate Texas politics, Abbott is forever shaking his fist at Barack Obama, the embodiment of everything he despises. Abbott knows his blatant disrespect for America’s first African-American president is deeply offensive to virtually every black voter in Texas (conservative or liberal), but so long as there is no political downside, the governor laughs at his critics.
In a similar vein, Abbott insists that the federal government isn’t serious about controlling the Texas-Mexico border, even though the president has deported far more undocumented people than any other previous administration. Critics call Obama the “Deporter in Chief”, but it isn’t enough to satisfy Abbott.
“I’m going to add more than 500 more Department of Public Safety officers, more Texas Rangers, more technology,” the governor bragged last year. “We are coming out of our own pocket, Texas taxpayers’ pockets, to secure the border and doing the job that the federal government must do.”
The gesture is futile and horribly expensive; the symbolism is priceless. By setting himself firmly against the Latino community, Abbott reassures his conservative white supporters that he has their back. Making his constituency happy is Abbott’s sole priority.
There hasn’t been a Convention of the states in 200 years, and it is unlikely that we will see one anytime soon. But, as this presidential primary season demonstrates with appalling clarity, anti-fed symbolism is more to be desired than gold.
Gregg Abbott and the Bundy boys are fully cognizant that the U.S. Constitution is a slave-era document which, interpreted according to the intentions of its framers, provides little support for the 20th century concepts of racial and gender equality.
The Civil War wasn’t fought over states rights, per se. In fact, the states that eventually comprised the Confederacy wanted to enforce the peculiar institution by federal fiat and were profoundly troubled by the possibility that, given the chance, emerging states would abolish slavery.
Abbott and the Bundys are the spiritual heirs of the Reconstruction era when Southern States, realizing the fight to preserve slavery was a dead letter, concocted ways to maintain the southern racial hierarchy by other means. The South could be convinced to support progressive legislation, even Roosevelt’s New Deal, so long as non-whites were excluded from the benefits, in whole or in part.
I have long argued that white racial resentment is the most powerful force in American politics. As the non-white population gradually swells to majority status, the Republican Party will moderate or the Democratic Party will enjoy a period of hegemony. But we are decades away from that tipping point (at least one, probably two) and by that time Greg Abbott will be in his dotage.
I didn’t vote for Greg Abbott; but I want him to represent all Texans, myself included. In particular, I would like to see the governor reaching out to African-American, Latino, Muslim and Asian Texans. He doesn’t have to agree with these people; but they need to know he understands their concerns.
It has frequently been argued that if the Bundy boys in Oregon weren’t white and ultra conservative they would all be dead or in custody by now. Historical precedent suggests this is so.
That said, the feds have been wise to ignore the militiamen (or terrorists, if you will). Massacres like Waco and Ruby Ridge accomplish little beyond supplying the radical right with a steady flow of holy martyrs. It is regrettable that federal prosecutors decided to put Steven and Dwight Hammond back in prison after they had already served federal time for their alleged crimes. The untrammeled power of the federal government, in the wrong hands, can do horrible damage (just ask Ramsey Muniz or the Colomb family). In this case, an overzealous prosecution has provided the loyal sons of a notorious racist with a patina of justification.
My guess is that the federal government, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, will ignore states-rights politicians like Greg Abbott in much the way federal authorities are presently ignoring the occupiers in Oregon. And that will be just fine with Mr. Abbott. He doesn’t really want to change the U.S. Constitution; he’s just trying to keep the customers satisfied.