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Hope and Possibility Amidst Human Depravity



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There are many ways one might characterize the Republican Party in today’s politics, but Governor Greg Abbott of Texas whose calculated and cynical cruelty apparently know no bounds, has emerged for me as a symbol of all that has gone awry in the GOP. The Texas governor has decided that his state will conduct its own foreign policy and accordingly, in a series of well publicized stunts that have contravened national law, has sent would-be asylees and refugees to California and Massachusetts aboard buses. He has done so because of the supposed crisis of migration occurring at the border that he claims is resulting in hordes of criminals crossing into Texas illegally. That has not occurred. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, the individuals Abbott has singled out were not engaged in what he asserts,

Most of these migrants are coming from politically unstable countries like Venezuela and have made harrowing journeys through jungles and other dangerous terrain across various countries. They are not undocumented immigrants, but asylum seekers. And there are processes in place designed to help them during their first few days and weeks in the U.S. An immigration officer conducts interviews to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture. Those allowed to temporarily remain in the U.S. are determined to have viable claims for asylum and are released with notices for immigration hearings to further determine their cases. These are systems that also help control the border by ensuring migrants are processed correctly. By circumventing the normal process, DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others involved in the transportation of migrants are making the situation much worse.1

        Perhaps most heinous of his actions, the governor this summer ordered that a string of buoys laced with razor wire be placed in the Rio Grande River at Eagle Pass, a common crossing spot for would-be refugees, migrants and asylees from Mexico. That action resulted in the deaths of two individuals, one a young child.2 The governor promptly denied responsibility for what his order had wrought, but there is no doubt that his political posturing, as the Los Angeles Times aptly described his calculus, resulted in the deaths of these innocents. Indeed, following those deaths, Abbott claimed that he was proud of the depravity they represent as the steps he ordered “protected” Texans from perfidy and, even more incredibly, the refugees from themselves. In a post on the X social media platform nominally addressed to President Biden, Abbott stated he was working assiduously to risk the deaths of these individuals to protect them, “We will continue to deploy every strategy to protect Texans and Americans—and the migrants risking their lives.”3

        Abbott has similarly deployed Texas Rangers to push men, women and children back into the Rio Grande River following their often-harrowing journeys of hundreds of miles, rather than ensure that the claims of each are processed according to law. Again, he has “justified” these actions on the basis of a fictitious criminal crisis at the border. Using these people’s lives for political purposes is far more attractive to Abbott and others in his party apparently, than actually addressing immigration policy and treating those affected in accord with national and international law. 

        Abbott’s initiatives represent violations of not only national, but of international law as well, as the International Criminal Court views abrogation of asylee and refugee rights as violations of that law.4 None of this appears to matter to him or to other Republican officials. They remain focused not on the rights and lives of those their choices affect, but on whipping up anger and resentment among their base supporters and sending signals that they are “standing tall.” While one might cite many examples of the lies and corruption in which today’s GOP is now enmired, none captures better their shared foundation of empty cruelty than the Texas governor’s actions.

        This fact raises the central question now confronting American politics: Why so many Americans are apparently willing to accept their own and national moral degradation and the enervation of freedom that are implicit in believing and countenancing the cruelty and lies GOP leaders continuously feed them. As Michelle Goldberg recently observed,

… a mix of malicious parody and projection [that] now dominates our public life. Sometime soon, for example, the House is likely to impeach President Biden on the pretext that he was involved in corruption in Ukraine — the same conspiracy theory Trump was trying to breathe life into when he got himself impeached for corruption in Ukraine.5

        Goldberg also quoted Naomi Klein to describe this Mirroring/Alice in Wonderland-like phenomenon that has allowed so many to “justify” Abbott’s actions and countless other Republican Party lies and inhumanities:

When looking at the Mirror World, it can seem obvious that millions of people have given themselves over to fantasy, to make-believe, to play acting. The trickier thing, the uncanny thing, really, is that’s what they see when they look at us.6

        While I doubt there is a single explanation for this malevolent and malicious political scenario, I wonder if it ultimately inheres in human behavior. Ironically, democracy trusts human beings to rule themselves and so it is ever open to these frailties. If so, human agency does give hope that those choosing to believe these evil fantasies can be apprised of what they are doing and persuaded to rethink their belief in the conspiracies and mythical claims that otherwise attract and animate them.

        In 1940, John Steinbeck embarked on a 4,000-mile voyage on a sardine boat with his long-time friend, the biologist Edward F. Ricketts and a small crew, around the Baja peninsula into the Sea of Cortez to document the sea life along those shores. The journey resulted in a host of scientific findings and also in Steinbeck’s recounting of the adventure in The Log of the Sea of Cortez.7 There, in addition to chronicling a share of the trip’s scientific dimensions, he also offered a wide-ranging set of thoughtful philosophic observations, including reflections on humans’ propensity to hold onto that which they wish to believe regardless of its relationship to reality. Scientists are no exception to this inclination, as he noted:

There is one great difficulty with a good hypothesis. When it is completed and rounded, the corners smooth and the content cohesive and coherent, it is likely to become a thing in itself, a work of art. It is then like a finished sonnet or a painting completed. One hates to disturb it. Even if subsequent information should shoot a hole in it, one hates to tear it down because it was once beautiful and whole. One of our leading scientists, having reasoned a reef in the Pacific was unable for a long time to reconcile the lack of a reef, indicated by soundings, with the reef his mind told him was there. … This is not set down in criticism; it is no light matter to make up one’s mind about anything. .... and once made up, it is even harder to abandon the position.8

        I find myself wondering whether the fierce hold of one’s views on one’s imagination may only be deepened by existential fear and abstract hatred, elements to which Abbott and today’s GOP routinely appeal. I am reminded of a poem by William Stafford entitled “For the Unknown Enemy,” which captured both the abstract hatred routinely ascribed to “adversaries” and the reality so often set aside when such occurs:

This monument is for the unknown good in our enemies. Like a picture their life began to appear: they gathered at home in the evening and sang. Above their fields they saw a new sky. A holiday came and they carried the baby to the park for a party. Sunlight surrounded them. …

This monument says that one afternoon we stood here letting a part of our minds escape. They came back, but different. Enemy: one day we glimpsed your life.9

        The great challenge now confronting our polity is whether the individuals who have developed and accepted hypotheses of evil and wild-eyed conspiracy can be brought to see the refugee child pushed back into the rushing river or drowned enmeshed in barbed wire and the fellow citizens now cast as enemies as, instead, the people they are, deserving of human rights and freedom. Steinbeck implicitly supported continuous dialogue as a remedy to this scenario and Stafford embraced the possibility represented by hope. These are twins and provide mechanisms by which the friends of freedom can press forward and continue to call on Americans to honor the principles on which our nation was founded. There really is no other choice if freedom and the rule of law are to endure in the United States.


1 Los Angeles Times. “ Editorial: There’s a Crisis at the border all right, but one created by Political Posturing,” September 20, 2022,, Accessed September 2, 2023. 

2 Pierce, Charles. “Greg Abbott Was Warned His Buoy Barrier Would Kill People. Now It Has,” Esquire, August 7, 2023,, Accessed August 7, 2023.

3 Schneid, Rebecca. “Justice Department threatens Texas with legal action over floating barrier in Rio Grande,” The Texas Tribune, July 21, 2023., Accessed July 22, 2023. 

4 Relief Web. “Despite First Trial on War Crimes, Thousands of Sudanese Still Without Justice, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Tells Security Council,” August 23, 2022,,  Accessed August 7, 2023.

5 Goldberg, Michelle. “Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf and the Political Upside Down,” The New York Times, September 4, 2023,, Accessed September 4, 2023. 

6 Goldberg, Michelle. “Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf and the Political Upside Down.”

7 Steinbeck, John. The Log From The Sea Of Cortez, New York: The Penguin Group, 1995.

8 Steinbeck, John. The Log From The Sea Of Cortez, pp. 148-149.

9 Stafford, William. The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1998, p. 217.

Publication Date

September 11, 2023