by Daryl Slusher

Oh Greg Abbott, you coulda been a contender. 

As Texas scarily descends into the maw of the coronavirus, it is deeply tragic that it could have been much different if Governor Greg Abbott would have stuck with the better angels of his nature — competence and knowledge — rather than giving in to right wing ideology, Dan Patrick and Donald Trump; or perhaps those are all the same thing. 

Compared to a lot of Republicans, especially Trump, Abbott originally was doing a decent job. He wasn’t at the level of Larry Hogan of Maryland or Mike DeWine of Ohio, Republicans governors who took the virus seriously from the start and worked in a bipartisan fashion to combat it. Abbott, however, did not deny the seriousness of the virus. At his briefings, he sounded way, way more competent than Trump did at his. He took serious measures like forming strike teams to go into coronavirus hotspots. Early in the pandemic it was really sort of comforting, even to this life long Democrat, to see Abbott’s performance compared to Trump’s. 

Sure, his shortcomings surfaced when he ran into ideological barriers, like questions of whether affordable medical treatment for the virus would be availalble to everyone in Texas — that is in the state that leads the nation in the number or uninsured residents. Overall though Abbott, for a while, managed to walk the ideological line and hold off the most craven elements of the Texas right wing. Yes, he was slow to issue a stay at home order, but he held his ideology and resentments in place and let big city mayors and urban county judges issue their own orders. 

Even his early reopening orders were not reckless like say, those of Brian Kemp in Georgia or Ron DeSantis in Florida. For instance Abbott initially reopened with moderate measures like reopening state parks and allowing retail curbside pickup. The national media often mentioned Abbott’s reopening in the same line as Kemp and DeSantis, but his early measures were much more cautious than theirs. In this way Abbott was able to appease at least some on the right while not flagrantly endangering the lives of his constituents.

But, President Donald Trump kept up pressure to reopen the country and Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick went on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Show and volunteered himself, and other older Texans, to die in order to get the economy going again.

To my knowledge Lieutenant Governor Patrick still hasn’t taken us up on our suggestion that he sign a “Do Not Ventilate” order so that someone not as willing to die as him can have the ventilator instead.

 As noted at the time, it is highly unlikely that Patrick is going to die from coronavirus given that he has good insurance and elite status that would get him the best care — including a ventilator if he needed it. (To my knowledge Patrick still hasn’t taken us up on our suggestion that he sign a “Do Not Ventilate” order so that someone not as willing to die as him can have the ventilator instead.) A lot of Texans are going to die though and not all of them are going to be elderly — not that it’s any better if we allow ideology to kill off elderly people, that’s just who Patrick offered up. They are going to die so that Patrick can get national publicity for what he evidently sees as courage on his part.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick

Before long Abbott switched to a more aggressive reopening stance and issued new orders which, among other things, specifically removed the power of local authorities to require the wearing of masks. He also gutted the enforcement portions of his own order when a judge sentenced a Dallas beautician to a week in jail after she flagrantly opened her shop in violation of the state order in place at the time.

Medical authorities, and many others, predicted exactly what would happen when Abbott and other Republican governors — like in Georgia, Florida and Arizona — reopened before meeting the criteria suggested by the federal CDC. The virtually unanimous predictions of health authorities were that by reopening before the curve had been flattened, by weakening efforts at social distancing, by not requiring masks (or even making clear it was important to wear them), and by weakening important local powers to combat the virus, more people would get the disease and more would die.

But, Abbott proceeded anyway, giving in to Patrick, Trump and other far right ideologues, including a few hundred or so demonstrators who showed up at the Capital April 18. Abbott also gave in to his own worst instincts. Predictably, far right ideologues are still mad at him anyway as evidenced by the ones caught on tape a few days ago ridiculing him for his coronavirus approach and for his disability.

Shut down the shut down demonstrators at the Texas Capital, April 18, 2020.

So now cases are surging all over Texas, especially in the big cities. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reported on Wednesday June 24 that ICU beds in Houston are 97% full.  Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading national expert on epidemiology, warns that Houston and Harris County “may become the worst epidemic in the US.” Hotez also singled out Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas as potential areas of crisis.  

Necessary steps he said should include requirements to wear masks along with social distancing. As Hotez said to the Houston Chronicle in an article published on Wednesday, June 24, “the next couple of days” is “crunch time,” and, “We’ve already let this thing go too long. Now the nightmare scenario is unfolding.” He also warned that Houston might “rival what we’re seeing now in Brazil.” 

“We’ve already let this thing go too long. Now the nightmare scenario is unfolding.” Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine

Abbott is now encouraging Texans to wear masks, but still refuses to make it a requirement because he doesn’t want to infringe on “personal liberty.” He is also calling on Texans to stay home, or go back home, a confusing message after he told them it was time to reopen the economy. He also semi-restored some local powers to require masks, but in a really sad and pathetic way. Abbott insisted to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff that the power had been in the Governor’s order all along, but that Wolff, other County Judges, and Mayors just weren’t sharp enough to find it. Now, there’s some real crisis leadership. 

Then today, June 25, Abbott announced a halt to further reopening steps, but did not roll back anything he had already done except to ban elective surgeries in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis Counties — in an attempt to preserve hospital beds.

The tragic bottom line is that tens of thousands of Texans are going to suffer and many, many are going to die because Governor Greg Abbott did not have the courage to stand up to Dan Patrick or to ignore Donald Trump and a few far right wing ideologues and demonstrators. He has made his mark as a profile in lack of courage. He’s smart enough to know it too and will have to live with that.

At least though Abbott will almost certainly live, which is more than can be said of the Texans who will die because of his moral weakness.


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