In recent weeks, a number of America’s increasingly nervous conservatives have raised the possibility that Donald Trump’s popularity among likely Republican primary voters is the political version of a summer fling—and that we will set aside this suitor with the odd hair once we resume our sense of serious purpose this fall.
I would like to believe it. Unfortunately, the analogy itself is fundamentally flawed in that summer flings, whether innocent or ill-advised, are supposed to be fun. And the hypothesis is in tension with the available evidence. Technically, we’re in the last days of summer, but the transition to fall has clearly begun, and yet the sense of persecution and nationalism that has fueled the Trump phenomenon shows no signs of abating.
As I wrote last month, Texas is a pioneer in this politics of grievance. This week brought us more examples of the consequences of that thinking, and more examples of elected officials staying the crazy course regardless. I didn’t have time to write about most of them, because we were busy finishing the October issue of Texas Monthly, which includes a column about the indictment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which I also wrote about on Tuesday in this space. But I’d like to point out three developments from the week, before the long weekend.
On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court began hearing arguments over how we fund public schools. Scott Keller, the state’s solicitor general, gamely argued that the current system must be fine, because it came from the Lege, “the people’s representatives.” However, the Texas Supreme Court’s involvement was inevitable, because the current system has been ruled unconstitutional, twice, and the Lege declined to fix that problem. “I tried,” wrote Jimmie Don Aycock, who chaired the House Public Education Committee this year, in a comment over at the Texas Tribune. He did. He devoted most of the session working to resolve this issue, which affects more than five million children, before pulling down his bill, which had little chance of passing, near the end of session so that his colleagues could pass some of theirs.
On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was widely clowned on social media after issuing a statement explaining that the people of Texas need to be nicer to cops, by calling them “sir” and “ma’am,” and sending a dessert over to their table, and so on. I was initially somewhat sympathetic to Patrick on this one. The unsolicited etiquette lecture was amazingly tone-deaf and provides yet another example of the lieutenant governor’s inability to stay anywhere in the vicinity of his own lane. At the same time, Patrick’s statement was obviously motivated by the horrible murder of a deputy sheriff in Houston last week, and if you’ve paid attention to Patrick, as I’ve had occasion to do, the statement is recognizable as an effort to be constructive. A misguided effort, perhaps, but he means well in a pandering kind of way. (We’re talking about a guy whose book—humbly titled “The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read” and which means to encourage people to read the Bible—earnestly informs readers that they can choose between a leather bound version of the Good Book or opt for one with a paper cover; either book is equally Good. ) My initial sympathy for Patrick quickly dissipated, however, when he responded to the criticism by doubling down on the belief that his critics suspected him of holding, explaining to the Texas Standard that the country is facing a war on cops and that media is persecuting law enforcement.
And on Thursday, Ted Cruz held a presidential campaign rally in Fort Worth, where he received an adoring reaction from the Texas grassroots. The celebratory mood was marred by Cruz positioning himself as the chief defender of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who opted to go to jail for contempt of court this week rather than accept the judge’s eminently reasonable proposal that her deputies issue marriage licenses for gay couples on occasions when Davis felt that doing so would violate her religious principles. In Cruz’s telling, Davis is no ordinary victim, more like an actual martyr: “Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith.” His defense of Davis ignores the fact that the woman is a county clerk, not a religious authority. More troubling, to me, is Cruz’s wanton disregard for the belief that human life has intrinsic worth and dignity, and the Kantian principle that people are ends unto themselves, not means to an end. I take the latter to mean you shouldn’t use a muddled Kentuckian as a political prop. Davis was jailed for contempt of court because she acted in contempt of court. The people in a rush to use her as a totem of their own sense of victimization are likely to do her more harm than the government she works for, sadly.
I’d be sorry to start a long weekend on a grim note, though, so I’ll close by pointing to one pocket of good news. Texas’s new land commissioner, George P. Bush, has spent the entire week remembering the Alamo, promoting forthcoming job fairs for veterans, and otherwise continuing his rampage of not discrediting the state. I’d be happy to hear of others, though, so let’s send around a collection plate in the comments.