My family moved to Texas from Massachusetts in 1830, six years before Texas became an independent nation. I should say one man made the migration; he met his wife on the journey, in Tennessee. They first stopped to see his uncle in New Orleans, who gave him some horses, a deed to some property in Texas, and a new covered wagon. He landed in East Texas, got bored of farming, and moved further West, landing in Marfa and Alpine. Remnants of that decision are all over the region today.
He made this choice for one reason: freedom. He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, and tired of the overly compliant and restrictive culture of the Northeast. He wanted something new, something other than the stultifying strictures of his Yankee homeland. He craved adventure, even danger. He wanted choice. He wanted to find himself rather than forever live a defined and scripted life under a set doctrine of belief and practice.
That same spirit lives in Texas today. It’s about being a pioneer in a land of opportunity. Everyone faces the elements (especially in Southwest Texas), and attempts to tame them. With freedom. With courage. With uncertain results. Equally. Yes, in an odd sort of way, the culture is egalitarian. Even the rich affect the mannerisms of the poor. This is for a reason. The freedom found in Texas ideally lets everyone have a chance. The strict class demarcation of the Northeast and Deep South are far less pronounced in Texas.
There’s a deep culture of loving freedom in Texas, and with that comes a baked-in habit of civility. Texas has perfected hospitality, and the art of the smile. As for facemasks, those are for bandits and bank robbers, people who hide their identities because they mean you harm. The idea of the whole population masking up is inimical to what the state is all about. Forcing people to stay in their homes conflicts with the whole history of a people whose home is on the range and the gigantic skies serve as not only nature’s ceiling but a passageway to the eternal.
This is why I was shocked when Texas shut down due to the advent of the coronavirus in 2020. The deep heritage of this state has faced far more severe threats and they did so while never giving up their rights. It’s the last place I would have expected the citizenry to tolerate despotism in the name of safety. But it happened. And it happened because the governor lost courage. He chose control over liberty, cowardice over courage, imposition over trust. And the state suffered terribly as a result.
Last I visited my mother’s town, it was in shambles. A third of businesses were closed. The people were sad. People were afraid even to go to the doctor, for fear of the virus but also the fear of being ostracized and isolated when testing positive. Her church was basically destroyed, the choir disbanded and most of the staff fired, as people were locked out and then stopped attending because they were fed up with the masks and the ridiculous strictures around “social distancing.” The freedoms they had taken for granted, ever since the great battles for Texas independence, were taken away.
Feeling enormous political pressure, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas finally issued a sweeping proclamation that repeals the whole of his virus-mitigation measures that he issued on March 19, 2020. They are all gone. One fell swoop, and Texas is now fully open. That includes the mask mandate and all capacity limits.
Abbott offered various lame excuses concerning cases and vaccines and so on, but it is impossible to miss that this looks and feels like a wholesale repudiation of the entire lockdown agenda. It was a big mistake. He knows it. Most everyone in Texas knows it.
How does one do something so awful to the formerly free Texas and dial it back while saving face? You claim that conditions have changed. “It is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
No longer needed? They never were.
Let’s look at the excuse that severe outcomes are down. The governor locked down the state when there were almost no deaths. Peak severe outcomes didn’t happen until five months later. The next peak was in mid-January. Now deaths are back down again…to where they were in August. So in terms of minimizing deaths – there is zero relationship between lockdowns and avoiding virus deaths – this opening makes no sense.
The chart on cases looks almost identical. So the timing of the opening and the closing make no medical sense. It was just disease panic at work and the governor’s fear that he would be blamed unless he did something.
Meanwhile all through the spring and summer, the state was crawling with SWAT teams arresting people who were merely trying to grab a beer and protested when the government tried to stop them. A local sheriff told the beer drinkers: “If you don’t like what’s going on, run for governor.”
It couldn’t last. I knew it at the time. Texans would revolt, in their way: through polite but persistent pressure on the elites who betrayed them. That’s why the governor gave in. He wasn’t listening to the science for once. He never cared about the science. He cared about his career. So there is a sense in which opening, though it was the right thing to do, was also a similar act of fear. It was reactive, an attempt to save his legacy and career. But if I know the people of this state, they will not fall for it. They know what he did and they know why. He will not be forgiven.
When the governor made the announcement, my 81-year-old mother was overjoyed. She texted me excitedly within minutes of the news. The lockdowns broke her heart. She feared it would be the year she died and she would have to do so alone, without her sons at her side. Nor could we have attended her funeral, given travel restrictions and quarantine rules. But she made it through. She feels grateful to see her ideals live again in the state she loves so much.
Texas is not about restriction, imposition, top-down mandates, and central plans. It’s about the opposite. Even in the face of danger, Texas prefers the risk of freedom over the false security of obeying someone else’s belief of how life should be lived. Now they have their freedoms back. May they learn once again, as my Texas ancestors did, that they must fight never to have their freedoms taken away again.