What In The World Is Happening In Texas?
On taking Republicans at their word, and the perils of "popularism."
On January 24th, 2024, the state of Texas laid down the gauntlet at the feet of the federal government. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to vacate a lower court decision that barred Border Patrol agents from cutting wire laid down by the Texas National Guard, Governor Greg Abbott, citing a supposed invasion of his state, declared that Texas would ignore federal orders on immigration policy. He was soon backed by 25 other Republicans governors from around the country. It marks the greatest challenge to federal authority the country has seen in generations, the extension of a radical state’s rights doctrine that even Reagan-appointed judges have called “breathtaking,” and potentially one of the greatest challenges of Joe Biden’s presidency.
And it’s nowhere in the news.
As of today, it’s been three days since Abbott made his declaration. Things have only escalated since. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, fresh off of his implosion in the presidential race, has committed to materially supporting Texas on top of the Florida National Guard troops he’s already sent there. Two Democratic members of Congress, both from Texas, have requested that Biden federalize the Texas National Guard, Eisenhower-style. But if you were to check the front page of The New York Times at the time of writing for this article, the first thing you’d see would be their story on the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the Palestine case. Admittedly, a pretty big story. And below that, is…a story on the economy. Important, to be sure, but probably not as newsworthy as a budding clash between state and federal troops. Search for some coverage below that and you’ll find a story about museums. And below that is Republican primary coverage. And below that is the fashion section, then a story about a Twitter account, then advice on how to exercise—anything and everything, it seems, besides Abbott’s order.
And it’s not just the Times. The Financial Times, usually pretty reliable, also has nothing on the story. The Washington Post, to its credit, published a concise timeline of the events leading up to Abbott’s order, but it hasn’t received A1 coverage on either the Post’s front page or its dedicated politics section. The best explanation I can think of for this is that the immediate consequences of Abbott’s order are supposedly limited. According to Ilya Somin, a libertarian law professor writing in Reason, “The Supreme Court ruling…does not actually order Texas itself to do anything, or even to refrain from installing additional wire. Thus, we are left with a weird situation where the feds can cut the wire, Texas can install more, the feds can cut it again, and so on. That may continue unless and until the courts resolve the case more fully.” So, while the language in Abbott’s statement may have made a confrontation sound imminent, an actual flashpoint does not exist, at least under the current, contradictory state of the court orders.
In that case, is this just a nothingburger? Is the media right in ignoring all this? Is it true that nothing ever happens? I don’t think so. Even if, in spite of the wishes of some Republicans, a violent outbreak isn’t fast approaching, this is still a really big deal. The governor of one of the largest and most important states in the country using Southern Manifesto language to defy federal law shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, none of the right’s rhetoric surrounding immigration policy should have ever been taken for granted. Much like the sudden ouster of Kevin McCarthy last November, this recent escalation is the logical conclusion of American conservative ideology, enabled by a healthy assist from establishment incompetence. The story of how we got here is a long one, but it’s a very important one. So, in lieu of mainstream coverage, I will sum it up and chart out what might happen next.