Harvey Graff

“Texas patriots,” as they call themselves, call for secession from the Union, harkening back to their fictionalized idyllic days of the short-lived Republic of Texas. They fantasize about the war for independence from Mexico (fought to preserve slavery in Texas) and the recently reinvented “glories” of the battle at the Alamo. Texas Republicans legislate not only for “patriotic” history but for the removal of depictions of Mexicans in accounts and displays of the Alamo.

In recent weeks, Texas Republicans—with Florida in particular and other Republican-dominated states racing to follow—advance toward secession from democratic, humane reality, and the constitutional American republic. Their large steps are paved with on gun “freedom;” banning transgender girls form participating in school sports; banning the free speech rights of teachers and students to teach and learn a complete and inclusive U.S. history especially about race and slavery; radically restricting the right to vote especially for older, poorer, and minority citizens; and now dramatically restricting women’s rights to control their own bodies and giving others vigilante “rights” to police them. Uniting these diverse actions is a counterfeit movement for “freedom” from law, order, precedent, civility, and mutual respect. This construction of freedom is ahistorically retrogressive.

These loud Texans—Republicans and libertarians—rush to proclaim Texas’s independence from any shared burdens of their relationships and obligations as one of 50 United States and 3 territories. Except, that is, when Texas requires federal aid. This happened twice in 2021 alone: after the deadly power failures of the “independent” Texas power grid and now in response to the current, even more deadly Covid surge that Gov. Abbott’s obstructionism assists. They see no contradictions or inconsistencies. Nor, apparently, do the dozen or so other states that rush to join them. They suffer from “freedom” envy,” whose advanced condition is secession first from reality, then from the nation. Ohio follows, ignorantly imitating.

Although there is no formal talk of legal secession, Florida competes with Texas. Gov. DeSantis makes that clear. Right-wing leaders and their followers in both states loudly proclaim their “Freedom.” Typically, this is a negative conception—as in freedom from x, y, or z—rather than a positive programmatic or policy position. Gov. DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Abbott of Texas both loudly and proudly tie their unconstitutional bans of vaccination and masking mandates to their ideologically distorted notions of “freedom.” They now join in endorsing “freedom” from legal abortions and “freedom” for others, predominately white men, to ban women’s rights to control their own bodies. Texas has achieved this goal with its wildly unconstitutional first heartbeat (approximately 5-6 weeks of pregnancy before all but a few women know that they are pregnant) ban on abortions and its endorsement of vigilantism to enforce the law by private individuals and groups who will be rewarded financially for their persecution of others.

Seldom at a loss for words, Florida freshman Congressman and “America Firster” Matt Gaetz campaigns for the rapid spread of the “Florida variant” of Covid-19, also known as the “freedom variant.” Agreeing, Texas follower DeSantis touts “Freedom from Faucism,” comparing it astonishingly to “Freedom from Fascism.” His official inactions succeed in spreading the deadly Delta Covid variant, leading the nation, across all age groups and all parts of the state. Yet he bans all legal, political, educational, and other entities from common-sense masking and vaccination policies. Second place Texas races to catch up.

Municipalities and schools across both states, including some Republican-majority counties, are ignoring these deadly decrees and beginning to win victories in the courts. These unconstitutional, lawless, anti-health, and anti-science governors respond contradictorily with threats to withhold funding for schools. The states lack legal authority for many of these actions; the courts begin to strike their edicts down.

My copy of the US Constitution, as well as state constitutions, nowhere includes the “right to spread disease and death to others, or to oneself.” Nor the right to promote gun violence with Texas’ adoption of statewide open carry for anyone 18 or older, unbounded by requirements for permits, licenses, background checks, or training. This includes college campuses. In both states, new laws threaten peaceful protesters with arrests and criminal judgment. No matter how it is read, the Second Amendment grants no such “liberties.”

Nor do bans on transgirls’ athletic participation align with any accepted notion of “freedom.” Such bans ignore both the physical results of gender transition medical treatments and surgery, and also the simple fact that these young athletes’ participation is almost never a real issue in school sports in their states or others.

Nor are the much-reported efforts to suppress specific populations’ access to voting in many different forms, from limitations on absentee voting, restrictions on hours of early and Sunday voting, limits on ballot drop-boxes, identification requirements that transcend any needs, and bans on 24-hour voting and voting from a vehicle for the differently abled and the elderly. This is “freedom” to suppress voters selectively, also unconstitutional, not legal “freedom” for all citizens.

Opposition to scientific, public health, and common-sense Covid protections and mitigations is another element in Texas’s and Florida’s secession from reality. So too is increasing opposition to any vaccination requirements--not only Covid, regardless of their success in eradicating contagious disease. Legislative and executive enactments contradict state and local court rulings on government authority to limit “freedoms” when necessary for the general welfare.

A final example is the “nondebate” about teaching about race, racial relationships, and slavery in history and civics classes, especially in K-12 schools. Of course, the organized and well-funded campaign by right-wing activist groups purposely confuses the regular and necessary teaching of race-related issues with critical race theory, a field of legal scholarship taught overwhelming in law schools. They think the name sounds alarming.

The right-wing activists invent a fictitious version of critical race theory so they can misrepresent and then viciously attack it implicitly and explicitly. They provide sample legislation in online “handbooks” and “toolkits,” which Republican legislators parrot, and scripts for “protesting parents” to read to school boards and podcasts. None of these parents has cited an example from their own children’s schooling of “blaming,” “shaming,” or “holding white people responsible” for the tragedies of American history.

Basic knowledge, maturity, and preparation for responsible citizenship of the young are actively at risk. So are First Amendment rights to free speech for both teachers (who are being intimidated as you read this) and students. Radically edited and white-washed history is an ignorant ideological movement against an inclusive democracy.

Abbott’s and DeSantis’s proclaimed “freedoms” stumble between “individual rights,” “parental rights,” and other “rights.” They are illogical, ignorant, and illegal distortions of any recognized concept of “rights” in the American or Western tradition. Their enactment constitutes a form of secession from reality, the Constitution, and the U.S republic.

Ohioans need to pay attention. Right-wing Republican state legislators (and candidates for Congress and the U.S. Senate) rush to imitate Texas and Florida as well as Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Although they seldom acknowledge it, they compete with their aspirational peers on limiting public health, gun “rights,” voting restrictions, abortion bans, free speech of students and teachers, teaching about race, rights of transgender persons, and more.

If this is not sufficiently alarming, even more so is the fact that these legislators and candidates do not know the contents of the legislation they copy from other states or right-wing activist groups’ websites. When asked by the media or their colleagues, they are either unable to answer basic questions or give muddle, uninformed answers.

If these “patriots” believe in legal rather than rhetorical and defacto secession, they should put the question to a popular vote. I have no doubt that they will be rejected roundly by the great majority of the electorate and perhaps also voted out of office.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history including The Dallas Myth. He taught at the Universities of Texas at Dallas and San Antonio for more than 25 years.