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Commentary Coronavirus

Opinion: Abbott displays demagoguery, xenophobia in COVID-19 actions

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By Luis Enrique Miranda

A few weeks ago, the polar vortex was still terrorizing millions of people across the American South and Mexico’s northern states. During this time, I was in contact with many friends and acquaintances who were checking in on me or I was checking in with. In one such conversation I ended up using one term to sum up the behavior of the state in the wake of disasters: negligent homicide.

Luis Enrique Miranda

There are no values or principles in the Texas GOP that they are not willing to hypocritically throw under the bus for political expediency. The only consistent aspect of their policy is cruelty, neglect, and (despite their messaging of small governance) the desire to crush any city that steps out of line from the state’s agenda. 

No one embodies this party better than Gov. Greg Abbott, a racist demagogue who seems to have an uncomfortably intimate understanding of authoritarian playbooks. 

Take for example his recent moves in regards to the COVID pandemic. He removed the mask mandate and ordered a complete re-opening of the economy. By doing so, he has also removed any expectations that the state government has an obligation to Texans during a pandemic. After all, what pandemic?

This was only step one. Why let all the blood on your hands go to waste when you can use it as a political prop to blame the vulnerable for your ineptitude? A few days after declaring the pandemic over, COVID-19 was suddenly a concern for Abbott — but only if the carriers are from across the border. 

The xenophobic practice of linking diseases with minorities has a long, consistent history in the United States. Any El Pasoan acquainted with the typhoid and tuberculosis outbreaks in the 20th century can attest. 

During past public health scares, it was a standard practice to vaccinate folks crossing the border, especially by the 1950s. I encourage readers to delve deep into how health and the health-care industry has played a huge role in systemic oppression. The state has taken actions that are best defined as genocidal. This recent spat between the governor and the president is stained and shadowed by that looming history.  

Biden offering federal money for health screenings at the border, and outing Abbott’s refusal to take federal help, exposes the governor’s claims for what they are: Racially charged political theater meant to rile up his base to discriminate against migrants and push for more punitive laws, while also allowing Texans to ignore safety in the face of a pandemic. 

Biden’s response exposes even more, as it reveals the casual xenophobia and stereotyping of neoliberal leadership like the Biden administration. After all, he did not challenge the idea that migrants are disease-ridden, or that a focus should be placed on the border while flubbing the criticism of the state’s internal policies.

 By using the term “Neanderthal thinking,” Biden reveals this poor habit of liberals looking down on the South as inferior while mocking the suffering of the oppressed people living in these states. He also opened up an opportunity for bad faith actors to use his comment to freeze out the legitimate outcry over a decision that is reckless, negligent, and cruel. 

Ultimately, Abbott has shown himself to be a selfish demagogue. He uses a thin veil of right-wing libertarianism as a cover for his messaging, but in fact rules like a tyrant. He demands cities fall in line with the almighty state. He is exposed as a failed statesman who cannot manage the state, so he utilizes xenophobia and racism to obfuscate his failures and poor decisions, shoring them up to the vulnerable. 

The right thing to do would be resign, but Abbott never does the right thing. The next best thing would be to have him removed, but since the gravy train is still going for the industries that control the state, that is also unlikely. 

Ultimately, El Pasoans have always suffered existence under a state that mistreats us, like the poor child in the back of the room who struggles with English. The teacher has always beaten us when we need help because the teacher is racist. 

It is time for everyone in the classroom to stand up and leave, to seek something better for ourselves than the stereotype the GOP wants to force us into. Texans need to change the Texas government because it is killing us, and it wants us to blame each other for it. 

Luis Enrique Miranda is a freelance journalist and writer who grew up in Juárez and El Paso. His work focuses on immigration and politics in the borderland.