By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
American papers are filled with pundits speculating about the horrors the Taliban may inflict on the people of Afghanistan, particularly its women. Less attention has been paid to the horrors Texas Republicans – the Taliban wing of the Republican Party – are inflicting on the State of Texas. In total control of the state, Republicans have a free hand that they’ve used to enforce extremism.
Dubbing them the Texas Taliban isn’t just name-calling. The parallels are chilling. The Taliban scorn democracy. They see their opponents as heretics and heathens. The Taliban are bigots, rejecting people of other religions. The Taliban enforce a religious zealotry with suppression of women a central tenet. The Taliban invoke religious law to supplant the civil law. The Taliban reject modernity, scorn science, and seek return to a fundamentalist society that never was.
Now consider the Republicans in Texas. They too are afraid of democracy. From Sen. Ted Cruz to Attorney General Ken Paxton, they sought to overturn the presidential election, while the party leaders echo Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen. Worried that Republicans are in danger of becoming a minority in the state, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican state legislature just pushed through election suppression measures to make it harder for workers, minorities, seniors, young people and the disabled to vote, harder for civic groups to assist people in voting, easier for partisans to intimidate voters, and opened the way for the partisan legislature to overturn election results they don’t like.
Republicans too prey on racial and religious prejudices. Their party chairman, Allen West, is a former Florida congressman who described Barack Obama as “Islamist,” charging that he was “purposefully enabling the Islamist cause.” When the Supreme Court tossed Trump’s baseless challenge to the election, West suggested that the South should rise again and secede: “that law-abiding states should bound together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.” The party markets the slogan “We are the storm,” an echo of anti-Semitic, white nationalist slogans that date back to Hitler’s stormtroopers.
The Republicans also target women in their zealotry. The governor just signed a law effectively banning abortion in Texas, by outlawing any abortion after six weeks (most women don’t even know they are pregnant in that period of time).
Worse, the law turns citizens into bounty hunters, offering cash rewards for turning in anyone who assists someone seeking an abortion. This law, if it survives challenge, will lead to deaths – from illicit abortions, from suicide, from pregnancies that take the mother’s life. An effort to stay the enforcement of this vicious law – a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s constitutional precedents – was just denied by the Supreme Court’s right-wing justices acting without issuing an opinion.
The Republicans also turn their backs on science. Texas has suffered record-breaking floods, droughts and winter storms over the last decade. Yet, with the state a leader in fossil fuel production, its politicians have been in denial about climate change. They were unprepared when Hurricane Harvey hit the state in 2017. Then extreme weather caused a major snowstorm that froze an unprotected energy grid. Gov. Abbot laughably blamed the deadly energy failure on solar and wind energy.
Now Abbott and Texas Republicans are trying to ban local authorities and school districts from enforcing mask mandates. Pandering to the Trump-aroused zealots in their own party, they are prepared to put children and teachers at risk, even as Texas hospitals and ICUs are filling up with the surge of new cases from the Delta variant.
The Taliban, of course, patrol the streets of Kabul armed with AK-47s, terrorizing those who might cross them. The Texas Taliban hasn’t gone that far, but they did just force through a law allowing its citizens to carry handguns without a permit.
In an era when we’ve witnessed armed gangs marching on the Michigan legislature and the sacking of the U.S. Capitol, one can only shudder to think what would happen in Texas if Republicans were to lose political control.
Unlike the Taliban, Texas Republicans still have to face the voters. Big oil money can help insulate them. Voter suppression laws can hold down turnout. The Big Lie can rouse their base. In the end, however, Texans will decide whether they will bring an end to this misrule or continue to support a party that is ever more unhinged.
The last two weeks the Taliban honored an agreement to help the U.S. military get 123,000 Afghans and Americans out of the country and promised to do more as they seek to work with other nations.
In that same period, the Texas legislature and Gov. Abbott sought to restrict voting and take away a woman’s right to self-determination. Who are we to not trust a newly emerging Taliban as it seeks its place in the family of nations while being asked to trust a Republican Government of Texas that attacks democracy and the rights of women?
It’s the old tried-and-true Confederate State of Texas, the last state to inform its slaves they were free, for which we now celebrate Juneteenth.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.