Over the past two months, I have been called a spineless coward, a quitter, a traitor, a suspected spy, a liar, and a fraud. All of this has been launched at a guy who helped lead a fracking ban from people opposed to fracking. The name calling has now surpassed what the industry hurled at me across a year of campaigning for the ban. They pretty much stuck with extremist and anti-American communist, though occasionally labeling me an agent of urban sprawl and a lover of tacos.
This all stems from City Council’s June decision to repeal the ban. I never endorsed repeal, but I did say that I understood it may well be the least bad of a suite of bad choices. Perhaps some of the name calling is because I didn’t fully spell out my thinking on this point. Maybe if I do so here, some mutual understanding might take the place of attacks…maybe.
Here’s the way I see it. The ban was unenforceable. HB 40 had killed it. Even those who would later criticize me were not pushing for the city to enforce the ban.
After May 18 (when HB 40 became law) we weren’t trying to save the life of the ban; we were trying to decide what to do with its dead body. Yes, it would have been preferable to let it rest on the books. That gesture is all that ‘winning’ would have meant. That’s all that was at stake at that point. There was no possible way any outcome of this particular lawsuit would have resulted in us actually defending the ban – that is, as a valid and enforceable ordinance.
The very best outcome would have been to let a nullified and voided law sit there in the city code. Even if that had happened, we’d still be right where we are, haggling over which set of rules are as protective as possible under HB 40 as fracking goes on in our town.
And there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of us winning even that hallow, or perhaps symbolic, victory. To push for it would have almost certainly meant a loss in the courts – huge expenses for us to pay if the judge ordered the city to cover the opponent’s costs and, worse, a legal precedent for HB 40 that would hurt the long game of overturning it.
We should spend money to fight for our values. But there is an assessment to be made here: do we have a reasonable, or even an outside, chance of winning? I don’t think we did in this case, because HB 40 changed the rules and the industry was merciless in their negotiations with the city as they amended their pleadings to reference the new law. We had a real fighting chance to defend the ban before HB 40. I was looking forward to that fight and by becoming interveners, DAG and Earthworks had actually done more than they said they would by way of defending the ban. But with HB 40 the ban was no more. The situation on the ground changed and we needed to acknowledge that.
Now, I admit I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’ve dropped my fair share of balls. And I should have said more to explain why DAG left the lawsuit after repeal. That’s just it: after repeal, the very thing we were intervening on behalf of – the ban – no longer existed.
Every lawyer I spoke with recommended repeal – and none of them wanted to hear or deliver that news. I didn’t want to hear it either – but wishful thinking and selective hearing do not courage make.
OK, so I guess that’s what people consider cowardly and quitting and lying. There are names I could attach to the alternative tactic of pressing the case for such meager potential upsides against near impossible odds with huge downsides. But I haven’t resorted to name calling and I won’t, because I don’t think it is productive and it would imply that I am certain of my wisdom and the folly of others. I try not to be lured into certainty on such vexed issues. I’m happy to concede that reasonable people can disagree on such matters.
For the most part, I think we are pulling along together and starting to craft promising ways forward to achieve our goal of making Denton a safer and healthier place. But some of what I have seen lately concerns me. It reminds me of Tea Party purges in the Republican Party. Ideological purity is sacrosanct. There can be no context-sensitive adjustments in the face of political realities. The bar grows higher and higher to count as an ally and true believer. There is absolute good and absolute evil. If one is not in the former category – stained by even one questionable speck – then one is in the latter category.
I know that we just led a fracking ban campaign that some will classify as extremist. But look at the stlye of the campaign – clear-eyed arguments, calm-headed discussion. We made the seemingly extreme show itself for what it really was: something reasonable, indeed, even just plain commonsense. What bothers me is not the personal abuse of the name-calling. It’s the shift in style that it indicates. Animosity, exaggeration, dogmatism, suspiciousness – this is a paranoid style of American politics.
I think this style is divisive and toxic. It leads to delusional beliefs and false and pointless accusations. Any reasonable argument that doesn’t happen to align with one’s position is labeled the product of a conspiracy: “There could be no other possible explanation!” But that’s only because moral certainty has precluded consideration of other possible explanations.