Betrayal on ice

Trickle down punishments in Texas

You’ve seen the headlines and the photos; I don’t need to tell you what the disaster in Texas was like last week.

It’s surreal now that the roads have thawed and the temperatures are back in the 70s. Did that even happen?

We were among the lucky who never lost power. The theories on why our neighborhood was spared are branching and unverified. We are on the same circuit as the children’s hospital. We are near a fire station. We are near the emergency call center. We are near the HQ of some secret deep-state police business.

The only theory that gets a blue check is that we are a rich, mostly white neighborhood.

Our friends and neighbors—people with newborns, people with sick parents—were at risk of freezing to death. We tried so desperately to help. We venmo-ed mutual aid efforts. We sent so many anxious text messages, hoping that non-responsiveness could be blamed on dead batteries and not dead people. We invited anyone, everyone, to come and warm themselves and charge their phones and sleep in our beds and feast on our pasta reserves.

We wanted so desperately to do something that we set aside all the pandemic considerations that we’ve argued over and practiced and refined and loathed for the last 11 months.

And no one could get to us.

As with the pandemic, the emotional fallout of this disaster is in grieving what could have been avoided. What lives would have been saved, what miseries avoided, had our leadership focused on public good instead of profit? On cooperation instead of a mythology of self-reliance? On governance instead of culture wars?

I keep thinking about Dante’s concept of hell, which predates power grids but is prescient about the experience of The Big Freeze. In “The Purgatorio,” the deepest circle of hell traps sinners in a vast frozen lake. The least offenders may bow their heads against the ferocity of the wind; the worst offenders cannot even find comfort in weeping, because their tears freeze into icicles that stab their eyes for eternity. 

These punishments—of extreme cold, isolation, and immobility—are reserved for sinners who have betrayed relationships.

There are plenty of public figures I could glibly condemn for their poor performances last week. But dunking on Ted Cruz is as futile as weeping in the 9th circle of hell.

The senator who can flee across the same border he’d like to see militarized will never freeze to death. The governor who tried to own the libs with falsehoods on Fox news will never go hungry because of supply chain disruption.

It was the rest of us, frozen in hell last week, bearing trickle-down punishments for profit motives and performative politics.

Once the roads thawed, we came back to each other with crushing enthusiasm. Regular people and celebrities cooked food and delivered supplies and donated tacos. Diplo paid for hundreds of pizzas. Neighbors shared milk and boiled water and helped fix burst pipes. Strangers with big trucks hauled enormous cubes of water.

A private citizen who ought to have been our senator organized hundreds of thousands of well-check phone calls and visits. A congresswoman from New York raised $5 million for our state.

Ted Cruz ought to have been quarantining.

Texas may have thawed, and the news cycle has moved on, but we are not back to normal. Community care cannot and should not have to fill in this vast leadership vacuum. These betrayals will not be forgotten, and we will not be gaslit into believing that we chose this.


📖 Reading, and being radicalized by, “The Force of Non-Violence” by Judith Butler. Our words matter more than we may ever know. Impostor syndrome is the new hysteria. What sandwiches have to do with grief. White motherhood, weaponized again.

🎧 Listening. A friend of a friend wrote this song. My favorite line involves an acronym pairing that wouldn’t have made sense just a week ago.

🙄 Wut? How do your breasts look after you finish crying?

🤓 Filling in my vocabulary holes with German. Impfneid (envy of those who have been vaccinated) is one among a fresh crop of German words related to the pandemic. Whenever I hear of a shot in a familiar arm, I am envious, of course, but that is outweighed by a special thrill. What is the German word for delight in vaccination?

😆 Tweet of the week: