You take whatever position you like on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. I will always think of him as an acolyte of Satan.
Now he’s moving to suppress an effort by certain public school districts to increase voter show-up at the polls. Right. And the wolf admonished Little Red Riding Hood not to peek under the covers.
But Paxton is the least of it. He and the entire Texas Republican Party are devoted to the project of scaring people away from the polls by whatever means possible. They’re afraid non-crazy not totally white people not obsessed with sex and toilets will outvote them some day. And, oh, glory day.
He’s been poking around Dallas lately, arm-in-arm with our district attorney, working on a great jihad against those hordes of illegal voters that Republicans keep seeing in their dreams from New Hampshire to the Rio Grande Valley. So far, if memory serves, they’ve come up with a stray ballot-pusher in West Dallas and one legal resident noncitizen who voted in Tarrant County because she didn’t understand her status.
Paxton helped get that woman, a mother of four, sentenced to prison for eight years, after which she could be deported. She’s free on bond pending appeal, but Republicans hope the headlines from her conviction will keep thousands of Hispanic voters away from the polls for the next several years.
Let’s not even get into Paxton’s cynical ginning of Islamophobia, like when he accused a Texas school district of only allowing Muslim kids to pray (yeah, that happened), or his adventure into theology when he urged more Christians to bring guns to church. Maybe someday Paxton will distribute tricked-out, gas-fired Bibles capable of firing .223 Remington ammo.
And then, of course, we have all of Paxton’s fine work on voter identification, striving to make it harder for people who can’t afford cars to vote. Let's not forget the immigrant-baiting. His relentless and dogged attacks on women’s pregnancy rights sort of close the circle, do they not?
It’s not hard to see the plan. Paxton’s entire political mission is a blowing of the shofar for the uber-white-right and an attempt to shut everybody else out of the house. But it’s not going to work forever, something I think Paxton and his pack may sense in their souls if not in their heads yet.
This week, Nate Cohn at The New York Times did an interesting architectural study of the Republican house of cards, showing how the advantages the party has built for itself with gerrymandering and its close cousin, seniority, have been eroding nationally in recent years. Of course, that’s all a race to see how fast President Donald Trump can pack the federal bench — the only thing the Trump White House seems serious about. If he can get there fast enough, Trump may be able to reverse or at least slow the steady tide of federal court decisions against dishonest districting.
But, look, we need to have a certain faith in the long-range wisdom and fairness of the great American democratic experiment. The long arc of history here is plain to see, and maybe we should look even beyond our society for the end of that rainbow.
Quite clearly, humankind is expanding its circle of empathy, extending the hand of basic respect to all shapes and varieties of human beings. It’s utterly implausible that this nation or this world in the years ahead will always be domineered only by guys who look like Ken Paxton.
Yet that’s what he speaks for. It’s what the gender, bathrooms and race message of the Republican Party is all about. They want to shrink the world to make it their own.
Paxton speaks to and for those white people who have exhausted their capacity for empathy, who have worn it out. They have stretched their arms as wide as ever they can, and they still find only their cousins at their fingertips. They just can’t stretch any more than that. It’s not in them.
And so they want to retreat from the world. None of their message is about hope or building. It’s all fear and fences. They want to make the world smaller so they can control it, and the way they intend to do it is by scaring everybody else away. The problem for the rest of us is that they’ve built a pretty good fence around the engines of power, and the key to their success is voter suppression.
I’m not just kidding about Paxton as an agent of the horned one, even though I don’t believe in the horned one. Look, I’m like you. I love this country and what it stands for. I view the Republican project as an effort to undermine, erode and eventually destroy the very essence of America. So, yeah, to me that’s wicked.
But it’s not enough just to say that. Disparaging Republicans still doesn’t put a single loaf of bread on a single table. Democrats have been barely treading water since the Trump victory, unable to come up with a credible new idea, which is why the sick-leave campaign in Austin is so exciting.
The Austin City Council is weighing a proposed ordinance to require private employers to provide sick leave to workers — probably a precursor to a much broader effort that will show up in other Southern cities soon. If the effort were to succeed, then all private employers in those cities would be required by law to provide a modest amount of sick leave to their employees.
Even if successful, the sick-leave movement would provide only a down payment on the restoration of worker rights needed in this country to return what the Koch brothers and their ilk have robbed from working people in recent decades. But there is an even larger point in play.
The sick-leave initiative is a smart beginning on giving people something to vote for. We have been talking about low voter turnout locally in recent weeks, and I have pointed to reasons other than vote suppression — like why bother? People won’t take time out of their lives to go vote if they think it’s an exercise in utter futility.
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Sick leave is a thing people can touch, hold, own. Imagine the difference. As it is now, someone who has never missed a day of work for three years at a fast-food restaurant gets the flu and misses work, and he or she is either out of a week’s pay or out of a job. Just think what it would be worth not to lose that pay or that job.
We can talk about the arguments against it some other day. My rebuttal to those arguments will fall somewhere between sell one of your extra castles, for the big guys, to figure it out, for the small ones. Once we all agree to be honest, not rob each other and work hard every day, let’s try a little harder to share the other basic challenges of life for a change. If you won’t live in a city like that, don’t let the door hit you.
Let’s hope the sick-leave campaign is only the beginning of a warp and weft that will weave an entire new fabric of social responsibility, respect, inclusion and empathy in this country — a big project of hope that people can actually vote for. Maybe sick leave is that loaf of bread people needed to see on the table.
Meanwhile, Paxton. We need to keep an eye on that devil, too, because he’s always up to something. We could think of it like this. On the one hand, we’ve got Ken Paxton. On the other hand, we’ve got paid sick leave. Now let’s all go vote. No, you didn’t hear me. Let’s ALL go vote.