Just trying to watch some hockey on the tube, and now I’m in a flamewar with my family.
Somehow, the subject of politics has come up. Weird, right? That people would be discussing the end of the world during the actual end of the world? This is only important because I dig democracy, love it like a yogi loves The Bends, and because my older brother and sister are farther right of field than 8-year-old me in Little League. They’re the type of people who probably, definitely think pets who don’t go to church twice a week will rot in eternal hell. Sorry, Fluffy. All the other doggie butts smell like Drakkar Noir here. Better luck next life. Normally, Bro and Sis — plus our no-nonsense 84-year-old mother — talk about harmless stuff. Good TV shows. Travel. Doctor’s visits. A little sports but only a little. Ma doesn’t really care for #sports!!! and for good reason. Bro and I are diehards of the same teams and can get a little ragey about their lack of effort and leadership, and it is a lack of effort and leadership making them suck. Don’t @ us. These are facts. Where’s our coach’s whistles?
The thread has taken a sharp downturn now that I’ve shared a pic of something I thought would be of interest. Being the normal, fun-loving, share-y guy that I am, I sent them a screenshot of a beautiful aerial photograph of the Pittsburgh neighborhood just north of the one where my family lived decades ago. All the various colors in the clusterfuck of tiny row houses pop, and the hues of the fall foliage cast a bittersweet/nauseating spell. Having escaped Pittsburgh decades earlier, “escaped” because there’s no work there unless you’re a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or Tom Savini, I had heard all the stories about the real estate in our hometown. Glorified shacks like the ones in the picture and like my family’s old domicile are going for astronomical prices. From a listing of about $54,000 as little as 20 years ago, 309 Taylor Street is now worth more than three times as much, and that’s including fire damage. I texted the panoramic image to Bro, Sis, and Ma, saying something to the effect of, Great pic. If we only had $285 large to spare, one of these asphyxiating, depression-inducing row houses like the one we grew up in could be ours!
I also added that the home prices in Pittsburgh and other flyover cities are shooting up due to “New Yorkers and Angelenos looking for better quality of life while still making NY/LA money.”
There. That’s it. I said what I said based on quite a few stories I’d read and conversations I’d had with friends back home and in other flyover states. End scene.
My normally chill sister, who got good grades all through college and grad school — shame I need to preface what I’m about to say with that — has decided to go there, as the kids from 2009 say. “IMHO they are wisely leaving blue city policies/crime behind.”
I can’t help myself. “Haha. All major police departments have seen their budgets INCREASE!!! There’s no middle class in either city, has nothing to do with crime or ‘blue’ leadership.”
And I’m underlining my point with a link to the Hill story “ ‘Democrat-run cities’ fuel the economy, keep many red states afloat.”
Great idea, Penguins. Let’s pass the puck 50 times before shooting it. That always works great.
With no response making me feel guilty, I switch the conversation to Ted Lasso. I found the season finale pretty damn poignant. My bro and sis, not so much.
Finally, Bro writes off The Hill as more left-wing pabulum.
“Haha,” I text back. “You think nothing that’s not OAN or Fox skews left. Turns out, they’re all pretty right wing.”
Come on, Letang. We’re the guys in black and gold. Try to remember that, eh?
Ding. It’s my phone again. Now we’re diving straight into Sadtown — as warped as they are, Bro and Sis are still wonderful, giving people who care about their communities and about our family. However, as I’m now finding out, Bro and Sis believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen (but not the down-ballot elections because that would be crazy!), and, yes, Bro and Sis have been “stewing” (Bro’s actual term) about this scandalous attack on justice since January, and, no, President Joe Biden is not doing a totally awesome job.
Along with a link to a Quinnipiac poll indicating a 38% approval rating for Grandpa Joe, Bro says, “Left wing whack job polling can’t even protect him. Afghanistan disaster, illegal and open border crossings, senility, inflation (obviously you don’t buy gas for your car), shipping crisis, empty shelves, and on and on. He’s a hack politician, has always been, and his cronies in Big Tech, media, and urban cities cheated to get him in office — over half the country doesn’t view him as legitimate.”
Spoiler alert: Joe Biden is the legitimate U.S. president, and he’s doing just fine, hovering around 50%, which is something his undeserving, unworthy predecessor could have only dreamed about. Biden also isn’t selling access to the U.S. government to Russian apparatchiks for a few million rubles and almost as many golden showers.
The same ol’ right-wing talking points — Dems are the true racists, wanting to keep Blacks and Hispanics “in their place and dependent on the government”; Big Tech is silencing the right; Hunter, Hunter, Hunter — are now being thrown at me as if I were some sort of dartboard in an Irish pub at last call. All I can do is ask them, my beloved siblings, Where in the ever-living fuck are you getting all of this G.D. misinformation?
Their two main sources, as I learn, are something called The Federalist, which turns out to be a blog of right-wing shittery masquerading as intellectualism just because some of the writers took History 101 in high school, and Tucker Carlson, the very same source of utter bullshit who is, legally, not to be believed. That’s not me saying that. That’s actually what a federal judge said, parroting Tucker’s lawyers in a slander case against him: The “ ‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ ”
But, please, Bro and Sis, keep chowing down on that fully vaccinated a-hole’s rancid B.S. omelets because we all know there’s no such thing as a right-wing echo chamber or virtual sphere where right-wingers talk mainly to other right-wingers and share the same conspiracies and probably ideas for cool swastika tattoos. Did The Former Guy’s AOL website or whatever ever get off the ground? Asking for exactly *checks notes* two friends.
There’s one on the left, too, an echo chamber, but it doesn’t bother me as much. We lefties aren’t hellbent on instituting a church-state where you could actually go to jail or worse for, say, masturbating — that’s what we Catholic school kids were taught back in the 1980s. Spank the sexy monkey, burn in fiery hell. Now if the forthcoming Fourth Reich will ban abortion, they will definitely send us males behind bars and beneath some 300-pound former defensive lineman nicknamed Tinky Winky for daring to choke the curvaceous chicken in our own homes. For anyone who also went to Catholic school back in the day, you know that landing in the big house or even going to hell was the least of our worries. The more immediate ones were open palms attached to homicidal-minded nuns and wooden paddles about the size, shape, and density of boat oars, and Sr. John had no compunction about unleashing her Attitude Adjuster on us in front of the whole class. Ugh. Your face turning red. Praying blood didn’t start rocketing from your stinging ass cheeks with every whack. The lovely Nikki Birdsall giggling her feathered blonde head off at you. Christ. No more of that, please.
Truly, though, with every day that passes, Texas, if not the rest of flyover country, is inching ever more closely toward Gilead. Led by makeup-less clown Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas lege has spent the past few months passing vile, unpopular legislation, sometimes even in the middle of the night. What’s that? No, nothing to see here. Just showing up to work at 3:30 in the morning to do some exceedingly popular stuff. It’s so popular, this stuff we’re doing, in the middle of the night, that we just don’t want to be swarmed by fans. Signing all those boobies, kissing all those pasty babies — we all lived through Beatlemania once before. Some of us were even sixth-time grandfathers back then. No need to re-live the madness here in Austin. You’re welcome!
Not only is a majority of this legislation unpopular, it’s incredibly dangerous. In a state where anyone, absolutely anyone who’s not an infant, can carry a firearm and where lawmakers are paying snitches $10,000 to rat on women seeking federally sanctioned health care, we are inching ever so closely to seeing Mad Max-ian teams of bounty hunters either too dumb or too lazy to hold down real jobs casing women’s health clinics to intimidate, interrogate, and apprehend prospective patients. Good grief, I’m too afraid to google that because it’s probably already happening. How is any of this making Texas safer? Why would big businesses ever want to open shop or relocate here? Bro and Sis are probably eyeing up McMansions in Southlake as we speak.
All of these new “laws” are absolutely dreadful, and they’re sure to be challenged in court if they aren’t already. The one that seems most fixable — to my sweet, innocent, pollyannish mind— is redistricting, and here’s why.
Years ago, Texas Republicans, to their credit, started gerrymandering voting districts to ensure GOP rule for years to come. Now that the results of the latest U.S. Census are in, Repubs — who have been in control since the 1990s courtesy of our old friend Mr. Gerry Mander — have been allowed to reshape voting districts again. “To the victors go the spoils,” as the kids from 1828 say. Even though blue-friendly people of color account for 95% of our 4 million new fellow Texans, whites/Republicans control 60% of all districts while making up about 40% of the total population while Hispanics, who account for about 39% of the total population, control only 18% of districts. Blacks sway exactly 0% of districts while comprising 12% of the population, and Asians, at 5% of the population, also are left with a big, fat nothing.
The maps ensure #whitepower just as longtime white/Republican districts are trending blue and as the white/Republican population is shrinking. In the new maps, seats favoring GOP incumbents have doubled, to 22, and competitive districts have shrunk from 12 to just one. Thanks to already gerrymandered districts, Republican congressional candidates control 65% of the U.S. House seats after receiving only 53% of the statewide vote in 2020. Gilead, here we come.
Locally, it’s more of the same. In South Fort Worth, Republican lawmakers chopped up a diverse Senate district into three districts, relegating some Black and Hispanic voters into a white/Republican-dominated district that runs south and west, and Hispanic and Asian voters in a lot of North Texas suburbs will have less of a voice now that they’ve been drawn into expansive congressional districts that dip into rural, white districts to create a white/Republican majority.
“The partisan effects of the maps are achieved by discriminating against communities of color,” said the progressive Brennan Center for Justice.
Coupled with Texas’ other voter suppression tactics — shitting on the Americans with Disabilities Act, encouraging partisan poll watchers, banning 24-hour drive-thru voting, and more — gerrymandering is sure to suppress the voices of voters of color for the next decade and beyond. You know you’ve run out of ideas when you need to physically prevent your opponents from voting. Name a Republican idea that’s neither culturally regressive nor CEO-friendly. Go ahead. I’ll wait. *long, long pause* *falls asleep*
And to Republican lawmakers’ claims that they drew these maps “race-blind,” what could possibly explain the double donut-shaped district they created in Killeen, totally disenfranchising the growing Black and Hispanic populations there? They drew a fucking donut! GOPers went out of their way to cut a hole in the middle of a district to favor white/Republican voters — how in the ever-living hell is that “race-blind”?
Republican-led legislatures in 18 states, including Texas, claim voter fraud is why they’re making it harder — especially for people of color in impoverished communities — to vote. The right still believes in voter fraud despite any evidence that could stand up in court. Wait a sec. Big Bro blowing up my phone again.
“Mark Fuckerberg paid $500M to set up vote mailboxes in Democratic districts with no chains of custody (led to massive ballot box stuffing), and now Biden and the Democrats are arguing that minorities are too dumb to get voter ID cards,” Bro texts. “I could go on for another 20 minutes.”
I want to text, “Where’s your proof?,” but the Pens are mounting a comeback. Nice clear, Tanger. About time.
Big Sis ruins the mood. “Thousands of affiants didn’t have a collective dream. They saw ballots scanned multiple times, photocopied ballots, empty lot ballots, underage ballots, dead ballots, laws changed unconstitutionally, Dominion machines connected to the internet changing votes from Trump to Biden. It’s obvious it was stolen in every way.”
“Obvious.” Right. WTF, Letang, you turnover machine!
In the state where I am taking in the Pens game, Attorney General Ken “I’ve Been Indicted for Felony Securities Fraud” Paxton spent 22,000 hours searching for evidence of voter fraud but only to turn up 16 cases of false addresses on registration forms out of nearly 17 million registered voters. Don’t listen to what my brother and siter and Paxton and Abbott and the rest of Texas’ Crypt Keepers are saying. The 2020 election, here and nationally, was on one of the safest in history. Texas’ secretary of state described ours as “smooth and secure,” and he’s a Republican.
The real reason Texas is making it harder to vote is that the 2020 election saw higher voter turnout than in any other election since 1992 — and minority voters accounted for most of that growth.
“For decades,” writes election attorney and Democrat attack dog Marc Elias, “the primary reason for spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud has been to justify the enactment of voter suppression laws. In state after state, Republicans rely on the fear of election fraud to support new laws that make voting more difficult. These laws, which predictably disproportionately impact minority voters, achieve Republican partisan electoral goals. As one federal court put it, these laws ‘target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.’ ”
That’s how we get donut-shaped districts and districts that look like Picassos: surgical precision.
Now that Abbott has signed the new maps into law, essentially guaranteeing GOP majorities in the House, Senate, and the board of education forever, the only political territory with a sliver of opportunity for Dems is the executive branch, and as much as I love Beto, a.k.a. The Hardest Working Man in Texas Politics, a.k.a. The Guy Who Won’t Jet Off to Cancun in the Middle of a Snowstorm/Blackout, I’m thinking, Come on, Matthew McConaughey. If a failing TV gameshow-host/casino-owner/daughter-luster-after-er and successful rapist can rise to the highest office in the land, then certainly an Oscar winner 50 years younger-seeming with a $20 million smile can slide on into the Capitol in measly little Austin. Amirite, amirite, amirite?!
And like Texas legislative maps of yore, our state’s new maps are already being challenged in court. Last week, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a federal lawsuit claiming the maps are intentionally discriminatory against Latino voters, who historically lean left. This is only the first of what’s sure to be a mess of litigation coming Austin’s way. As usual. The state has been sued multiple times, including by MALDEF, who continues fighting the good fight on behalf of reasonable people and people who understand plain ratios. Two million of our new neighbors are Hispanic, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the new maps. The number of districts where Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters has dropped in the House map from 33 to 30, and in the Congressional map, majority Hispanic districts have sunk from eight to seven. Visually, the look of some of these anti-majority districts is striking. Imagine a haphazardly gathered plate of Cheez-Its (the white-cheddar kind only — regular sucks).
That’s what the average gerrymandered voting district in Texas looks like: a geometric mess, basically. A Picasso.
In a statement, Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said, “Despite having only recently been found liable by a federal court for intentional racial discrimination in redistricting, Texas has once again adopted plans that dilute Latino voting strength. The new redistricting plans are an unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate and should be struck down.”
End Citizens United (ECU) and the Let America Vote Action Fund are also pissed.
“Texas Republicans passed one of the most egregiously gerrymandered congressional maps so far,” ECU recently said in a statement. “The map reduces the number of minority-majority districts, despite the fact that 95% of the population growth in Texas last decade was from communities of color. Texas’ map dilutes the power of the voice and vote of communities of color in a cynical attempt by Texas politicians to choose the voters they want to represent, preventing Texas voters from having the fair and equal representation that they deserve.”
Texas’ population growth accounted for two additional U.S. House seats (the most of any state), and both districts will be controlled by white/Republican voters, based on the new maps. In the lawsuit, MADLEF asks the state to hold elections until the matter is settled, even if the delay extends into 2022, when the Democrats will lose badly. Here and across the country. Do nothing, get nothing. Sorry, but thems the rules, Chuck and Nancy.
The worst part, and there’s always a worst part, is that the mandate the Democrats were given nationally doesn’t mean a thing. Like memorizing “The Apostle’s Creed.” Nothing. Or like wearing a uniform to grade school every day just to get your ass whacked by a 220-pound nun with catcher’s mitts for hands. Or like Nikki Birdsall’s curiously inoperable and always changing phone numbers scribbled on Bazooka Joe wrappers blindly tossed at you. Not one thing. Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the useless specters on the left will have squandered what will amount to their last federal mandate for the next 30 years or more. For as evil as congressional Republicans are, I’ll say this for them: They are united. And organized. It must be the fear of going to hell or prison and seeing each other there with their pants down that keeps them on point.
The Dems have tried, bless their dusty souls. Online, automatic, and Election Day registration, no-excuse mail voting, two weeks early voting, paper ballots, ban on partisan gerrymandering, Election Day holiday, prohibition on election subversion, small donor matching, and limits on dark money were all part of the Freedom to Vote Act, “were” because it was just killed by the filibuster. All that a hopeful body can do now is hope Biden does something to urge the Senate to reform the ancient filibuster and pass the act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with a simple majority vote. Otherwise, democracy is done.
The filibuster of the Freedom to Vote Act was interesting. The filibustering Rs, like a dramatic teenager after an awkward date, did not even want to talk about it. All it took was 41 of them to vote “no” to spike the discussion, 41 tiny voices.
“If you take the states that those 41 senators represent, add up all the population together, you get 24% of the American people,” said Sen. Angus King, “so the situation we’re in now is that 24% of the American people have an effective veto.”
Voting rights legislation is supported by more than 70% of us, we, the people.
“As GOP-led state legislatures like Texas continue to move quickly to draw unfair districts,” the ECU says, “it is urgent that the U.S. Senate passes the Freedom to Vote Act. This legislation is a critical anti-corruption and voting rights bill that would end partisan gerrymandering, ensuring that voters get to choose their representatives, not the other way around.”
Chances of anything good coming out of this are nil, but I wouldn’t be a card-carrying pinko-commie bastard if I didn’t believe in miracles. If you’re out there, Nikki, let me know you’re still alive and that all the pain Sr. John inflicted on me in public is what really turned you off, instead of just my acne and bad breath.
Whelp. There goes my phone again. *sigh*
To a link I’d sent earlier about TFG’s repeated failed attempts to overturn the election through the courts, Big Sis is following up on one of her earlier texts asking me not to insult her and our older brother — sorry, but maybe the terms “crazy” and “tinfoil hats” came from my thumbs — to say, “No cases were heard on the evidence. Those cases you speak of were filed by private citizens.”
I apologize, truly, for insulting my brother and sister and send a link from the conservative never-Trumper blog The Bulwark entitled “Killing the Kraken: Federal Judge Sanctions Trump’s Big Lie Lawyers,” which — along with a text from Ma begging us to stop — puts the issue to bed. For now. I’m headed to Pittsburgh next month for Bro’s birthday. I’ll be spending some time at Sis’ house. The last time politics came up when we were together, there was some shouting and lots of gesticulating. This time, there will be silence. The game is already over.
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.