By MIKE MAGEE
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been on a tear lately, and his central theme appears to be “revanchism.” Faced with declining demographics, he is retaliating against enemies and newcomers alike, aligning himself with slippery politicians and vigilantes. As they say in Texas, “He’s on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck”, and the game he’s playing appears to be “South Africa – 1950.”
The formal establishment of apartheid in South Africa occurred in 1948, though racial injustice had been baked in centuries earlier. Violence and intimidation, embedded in legislation supported by a 15% white minority, led to the creation of the African National Congress (ANC) which launched what they called their “Defiance Campaign.” By 1962, their party had been outlawed, and their dynamic leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned.
And yet resistance continued to grow, inside and outside the country. Religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, took to the street, organizing huge, peaceful rallies. In 1976, images of Black children being attacked and killed in Soweto township during a protest spread like wildfire around the world. 176 died and thousands were injured. In response, the United Nations called on its member states to divest and impose economic sanctions. Only 2 leaders did not. (More on that in a moment.)
Minority rule, oppression, vigilantism, and disenfranchisement are eventually losing propositions as Greg Abbott is learning. A majority of 52% now say his state is moving in the wrong direction. The list of grievances is long and continues to grow. Catholic bishops decried his inhumane handling of immigrant families this year. Baptist minister Rev. Frederick Haynes III spotlighted the Republican legislature’s voter suppression law recently suggesting they were “dressing up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo.” Only 39% approve of his handling of the pandemic, and many Texans find the renewed endorsement of “vigilante justice” for unfortunate women and girls seeking abortions to be a disturbing and dystopian new reality. By the way, 1 in 5 Texans lack health insurance, and Texas is one of twelve Republican-led states that continue to refuse federal offers to expand Medicaid coverage of their citizens.
Modern-day demographics in the Lone Star State suggest that the territory is no longer dominantly white, rural, or conservative. Texas population has grown by 40% (over 8 million new residents) in the past 20 years. Since 2010, over 95% of these new entrants are people of color. For every 1 white entrant in the past ten years, Texas accepted 3 Blacks, 3 Asians, 3 multiracial citizens, and 11 Hispanics. The cities and suburbs that have grown nearly 20% in the past 10 years, now include 70% of the statewide population. Rural areas have grown only 1%.
New entrants are finding jobs in firms attracted by liberal zoning, low taxes, and cash incentives. Firms like HP, Tesla, Oracle, and Amazon say they are big fans of 3P management (People/Planet/Profit). But how will this new “creative class” of techies and scientists like living in a state that wants to embrace a 4th P – Prejudice?
The current Republican crowd may be gutsy, but let’s face it, Abbott is no Reagan. And even “The Great Communicator” himself, has been somewhat sullied by brush up’s with history.
For example, by 1983, all but two UN member national leaders had supported the divestment of South Africa – Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Reagan in fact doubled down in 1986, placing Mandela on the terrorist watch list (where he remained until 2008), and said, “The South African government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organization that proclaims a goal of creating a communist state…”
This was five years after tipping his real hand to Walter Cronkite in an interview, describing South Africa as “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.”
Professor Steven Pedigo director of the LBJ Urban Lab at the University of Texas is an expert in urban economic development, regional cooperation, and placemaking. Pedigo has developed strategies for more than 50 cities and regions in the United States and believes the Republicans’ reliance on “gerrymandering, voter suppression, and relentless cultural warfare” is a “fatal miscalculation.”
With Abbott riding “abortion” the way Reagan once rode “communism”, and with Rev. Frederick Haynes III channeling Desmond Tutu, how long will it be before “Divest in Texas” becomes the new Lone Star State battling cry?
Mike Magee, MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist, and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.“