• Rosalind Kaplan, MD

The Terrors of Texas

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

In the height of the pre-vaccine pandemic in 2020, my 28-year-old daughter, Maddy and her partner of several years, Ian, packed up their apartment in southern Connecticut and moved to Austin, Texas. It wasn't on a whim-- they met it Norwalk, Connecticut, where they both were working, back in 2016. Neither one of them had intended to stay in Norwalk, where there was nothing much for them in the way of community, culture or scenery, but they had jobs there, and then they had each other. The pandemic opened up opportunities for them in an odd way, as Ian, a software engineer, no longer went to an office, and could do his work just as well from an apartment in Austin as an apartment in Norwalk. Maddy, a teacher, was also working remotely at the time, and this gave her the ability to work at her job in Connecticut while she searched for a new one in Austin. They liked the idea of Austin as an up-and-coming city for young people and for the warmer climate where they could spend more time outdoors. Added to that, they had some friends who lived there, and the cost of living was lower, especially with Texas' tax laws.

I don't think any of us could have foreseen some of the events of the past year they have spent in Austin. They aren't unhappy; the jobs and friends are working out, and they like the city just fine. But really, it's TEXAS. And TEXAS is a problem.

First, take the 'freak' snowstorm of February 2021 (read 'freak' as 'product of climate change'). Extreme freezing temperatures and a heap of ice and snow in a state that doesn't do cold and snow is bad enough, but the rogue electric grid, called ERCOT, a unregulated grid that only TEXAS would allow, led to days of power outage. Maddy and Ian had several days without power or heat. Their inadequately weather-proofed home registered temperatures in the 40's by the end of the outage, and ice had formed on the INSIDES of their windows. To add to the misery, they both got sick, possibly with Covid, although they couldn't get out of their house to get tested, given the impassable condition of the icy roads. So they shivered under blankets, wearing their winter coats and layers of clothing underneath. And then, just as the heat went on, the water system failed from ruptured pipes, and they had to boil water for drinking for another few days. As a parent on the East Coast, in the middle of a pandemic, I was very worried for the two of them. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and there was not a thing I could do to help them.

The good news? They are young and healthy, educated, knowledgeable and practical, they are financially stable, and they have each other. They coped with the crisis as well as anyone could, and came out the other end. Not everyone was so lucky. Hundreds of people who were undomiciled, had health problems, or were very young or very old, died because of ERCOT's irresponsible management of the power grid. Irresponsibility that TEXAS allows because, well, it's TEXAS.

When I was young, there was a meme that circulated about Texas: "TEXAS, where men are men, and sheep know it." Okay, it's immature and kind of disgusting and distasteful. And no, I don't believe that all men in Texas are into bestiality. I love a good Western hat and a nice pair of cowboy boots, and I won't turn down good barbecue. I also don't believe that all Texans are any particular way, as evidenced by the population of Austin, the 'blue city in a red state.'

But Texas politics are something else entirely. In July, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issued an executive order banning government entities, including public schools, from requiring masks or vaccination for Covid. On September 1, legislation allowing Texans to carry a handgun in public without a permit or a background check went into effect, and on the same day, the Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a time when many women don't even know they are pregnant; this law flies in the face of US constitutional rights for women, but TEXAS is all about it, and for now, the law is on the books. And THEN, on Sept. 7, strict new voting rules were signed into law. The law will undoubtedly curtail the ability for diverse, urban populations, most notably people of color, to vote.

Texas is showing us the worst of what Republican America has to offer. These new laws do a few choice things: 1. They flout public health advice from actual public health experts during a deadly pandemic. 2. They make it easier to kill and be killed senselessly with guns during a crisis of gun violence. 3. They deny women their right to agency over their own bodies, a denial which will have the most negative effects on women of color and teenagers, and which will imperil the health and safety of women and children. 4. They limit the ability of a population to VOTE, a fundamental constitutional right. And the laws that already existed? Well, look at the laws that allowed an unregulated electric grid, leading to the deaths of hundreds, illness of many more, and misery for millions of Texans. To qualify this assessment, there are other states with restrictive voting laws or problematic Covid policies (hello, Florida) but none that has amassed quite as many dangerous policies as The Lone Star State.

Texas is a state that sacrifices the well-being of everyone for the ability to yell 'YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I'M AN AMURICAN! I'M A TEXAN!' Essentially, Texas has taken the American tragedy of having a weak social contract and a flimsy social safety net to an extreme: Texas is wiping out the idea of a social contract entirely.

As a physician, I look at this and all I can think is that I wouldn't want to live in a state that cares so little for my health and safety. I don't like that my daughter lives there, but at least she is in Austin, and has resources that will protect her from some of the suffering that the state wants to inflict. It's too bad that many other people don't have such resources. Good barbecue and lower taxes will not save save them. Many of them will surely suffer in the days, months and years ahead.

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