The Things We Feared, 2014

"A Clockwork Orange"

As the year 20 and 14 draws, blessedly, to a close, let us reflect on that one thing that brought us together: fear. This was a year that saw a succession of freak-outs, each one eclipsing the next in apocalyptic panic. Texas seemed to be under constant siege: from children, from prayer-rug-wielding terrorists, from invisible (and possibly airborne!) West African diseases, from liberals. Just as one crisis was fading, another one roared to life. The fear was free-form, uncontained, whipping from one target to the next—and, then, like a flash mob with a short attention span, dispersing. Quickly, the old crises—the ones that just months before were supposed to cripple our way of life, rob us of our sovereignty, destroy our communities—were discarded, forgotten, as if they’d never mattered.

Imagine a thousand Alamos—and then forget almost all of them. But should auld crises be forgot, and never brought to mind?

In the interest of remembering, in the spirit of the new year, and perhaps in the hope of learning something (I’m an optimist) from them, here are the leading Everyone Freak Out, We’re All Gonna Die events of 2014:

Central American Refugees

For a time earlier this year, it seemed like all any Texas politician and tea party activist wanted to talk about was the Invasion of the Kiddos.

The phenomenon of children and teens traveling to the U.S. by themselves is not a new one. Immigration authorities and child welfare advocates have been grappling with the extremely delicate problem of what to do with unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border for many years. And the numbers of children from Central America began ticking upward, and then surging, several years ago. However, anti-immigrant groups and Texas politicians hardly took notice until this year when the system became overwhelmed by record numbers of children and families fleeing violence, insecurity and poverty in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

And then the reaction was furious. Anti-immigrant activists created elaborate alternative theories about the children. They weren’t actually kids. They weren’t fleeing violence. They were coming to the U.S. because of “the magnets” of free stuff and the promise of one day being able to vote for Malia Obama. Best not to even call them children, or refugees. The kids had leprosy, they had polio, they had Ebola.

Breitbart Texas deployed its crack team to South Texas to snap photos of scenes like “ANIMALS FEAST ON DEAD MIGRANT” and whip its audience into a frenzy with the usual Breitbart-ian admixture of shrieking headlines, seething rage and nonexistent editing.

State Rep.-elect Tony Tinderholt toyed with the idea of invading Mexico. State Rep. David Simpson was nearly pilloried for suggesting a modicum of compassion. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst accused Mexico of ushering the kids into the U.S. Rick Perry and Sean Hannity rushed to the border to pose on armored gunboats. For a mere $86 million, Perry deployed the National Guard and state police to the border for, as he explained to Fox, “the visual.” Politicians, including Democratic border Cnongressman Henry Cuellar, fell all over each other to see who could stand up to these underage alien invaders the most aggressively.

And then, in early fall, interest just flickered out. Oh, the children and families were still coming—albeit in smaller numbers—and the feds were busy in South Texas building giant no-bid for-profit “family detention centers,” and reports continued of deported youth being murdered back in their home countries, but then it just suddenly—around the time of an election, no less—seemed as if the fire had gone out on the issue.

Where are they now?

Reports suggest that many children and their parents have been deported to their deaths. Others are forced through for-profit prisons where attorneys and activists have reported detainees are poorly treated, sometimes sexually assaulted, and denied due process for their asylum claims. Recent data also indicates an uptick again in the numbers of people turning themselves in at the border, suggesting that the U.S. government’s response to the influx may not be enough to overcome the factors driving people out of Central America.

ISIS at the Border

The borderlands, it seemed, had all the fun this year. When it wasn’t the Central Americans, it was the Islamic State expanding the borders of the caliphate to Rio Grande City. As an actual crisis gripped the Middle East, with the fate of entire nation-states and the lives of millions in the balance, with the Islamic State actually (sometimes literally) threatening the borders of American allies, GOP leaders in Texas worried that the Islamic terror group was coming to Texas do the jihad. Evidence: “Quran books.” And an apparent Adidas soccer jersey that the crack team at Breitbart believed was a Muslim prayer rug. And California Congressman Duncan Hunter’s beautiful mind.

Meanwhile, not a single credible authority could be found that found such a theory plausible.

In late October, Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick warned in a TV ad that “ISIS terrorists threaten to cross our border and kill Americans.”

(Ah, but he just said “threaten,” and surely somewhere some jihadi with a Twitter account had threatened to come blow America up. Could be, could be.)

The “ISIS at the border” crisis seems to have cooled considerably, probably because it was so wildly unsupported that it was bound to die off once the politicians and propagandists wrapped up election season. Still, the ISIS claims, coupled with the hysteria over the Central Americans, certainly helped justify the ongoing border “surge.”

Where are they now?

Still in Syria, still in Iraq.


Ebola

For a little minute there, it seemed like we were all going to die. But in the end, just one person in Texas did: Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who contracted Ebola in Liberia, was diagnosed on Sept. 30 in Dallas and died in a Dallas hospital on October 8. Two of the nurses who treated Duncan were treated and released, disease-free, within weeks. Texas was declared Ebola-free on Nov. 7.

During that month and change, Ted Cruz proposed banning travel from affected West African nations, despite widespread concern from the medical community that such a draconian measure would make the disease outbreak worse. Rick Perry ordered mandatory quarantines for returning aid workers, although the risks of Ebola spreading from doctors and nurses is “near zero” and needlessly isolating people tends to discourage them from rendering aid. Schools closed. Parents kept their kids inside. Breitbart accused Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who showed considerable compassion toward the Duncan family, of being a “NAIVE LIBERAL” and doggedly spread the lie that Ebola is an airborne disease.

To recap: We were all going to die, then we didn’t. Huh, guess we got lucky.

Where are they now?

In West Africa, 7,800 have died and the disease has “roared back” after recent gains.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

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Published at 9:19 am CST
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