Fake news has been hurting Texas for years

Noah M. Horwitz

Since last year’s election, a common refrain among liberals has been that “fake news” is responsible for the depressing outcome. This much is an oversimplification, but it also makes a dangerous, incorrect presumption. The torrent of fake news did not begin when Hillary Clinton started running for president; it has been ubiquitous in the country’s political fabric generally, and that of Texas specifically, for years, and has had real-life ramifications.

Consider the state of Texas politics. The Legislature meets today for an atrocious special session, ostensibly focused on many things but likely to center around the Bathroom Bill. Proponents of the bill contend that a measure defending “privacy” is imperative because an army of perverts are threatening young girls in the bathroom by pretending to be transgender. Empirical data convincingly shows this is not a real problem.

But of course, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ilk do not believe the empirical data. When House Speaker Joe Straus, quoted in The New Yorker earlier this month, noted his opposition to the Bathroom Bill was rooted in his desire to not have the blood of any Texan on his hands, it should have been a watershed moment for folks of all political persuasions. The far-right, though, was impervious to its effects, because they do not subscribe to the same reality.

Indeed, the name of the game in Texas for years has now been solving problems that do not exist — well, I suppose it depends upon what you consider the problem to be.

Voter fraud is not a serious issue in Texas, especially the in-person kind that could ostensibly be cured by voter ID. Since Texas passed its draconian law in 2011, only three convictions have occurred for in-person voter fraud, out of nearly 30 million votes cast. Yet the issue is supposedly-pressing enough to be an emergency item in the incumbent special session of the Legislature.

In 2013, the Legislature met in special session to consider omnibus anti-abortion restrictions, including one requiring clinics to provide financially infeasible upgrades to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. (The Supreme Court has since struck down that part of the law.) The rationale, again with no actual support, was that it made early-term abortions safer.

And the issues only further extend into lunacy from there. A gaggle of incorrigibles in the House and the Senate have railed against “Sharia Law” taking root in Plano, and the state’s need to ban it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

I do not mean to say the reduction of fake news would be a panacea. Indeed, it doesn’t take a political scientist to see the apparent rationale for these issues as thinly-veiled subterfuges for something else. The Bathroom Bill is about hurting trans kids, voter ID is about disenfranchising black people, the calls for ambulatory surgical centers is about shuttering clinics and the Sharia crap is about persecuting Muslims.

Still, the way that nearly the entirety of Texas’s government acts in bad faith on these issues and many others should perturb each and every one of us. As the special session gets going, and Patrick and his ilk make wild claims, we would also be wise to remember that fake and dishonest priorities have real-life effects that usually involve folks getting hurt.

Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.