A scene from the state-wide February freeze in Texas (Image: AP/Brett Coomer)

There’s something piquant in there being so much news, or pseudo-news, on a day that Facebook officially banned us from sharing it.

Others will weigh in on that, and parliament workplace culture, and the not-unrelated burying of the Family Court in a sleazy deal, but my eye was caught by stuff from the US: the big Texas freeze out, the death of political shock-jock Rush Limbaugh and the demolition of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

That triple whammy serves as a marker for the end of some sort of era, maybe. In Texas, which has been hit by unusually cold weather, much of the power grid has frozen up, denying millions of people access to heat and power.

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The Texas grid is separate to the two nationwide east and west grids, something which allows for light touch regulation, which has left it unprepared for the increasingly erratic weather conditions predicted as a consequence of climate change.

The light touch has resulted in no light at all — nor heat — as a rusting, unserviced grid has frozen up at every point of the system. That has proved frustrating to many, but particularly to new Texas arrival Elon Musk who observed that the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas wasn’t earning the “R” in its acronym.

Musk has only just moved to Texas from California, having set up a Tesla plant near Austin and praising the state’s spirit of freedom, etc, compared to rule-bound California. California is a mess too, but less of one since its adventures with deregulation were halted by a return to Democratic government.

What better way to demonstrate the social nature of the economy than to have the construction of a new Tesla factory grind to a halt because of a few cheap wires?

Ironically, Teslas have proved a lifeline, perhaps literally, for some Texans, who have been sleeping in theirs — switching the car to “camp mode” — as their houses freeze over. Hard to think of a more fitting image: the Tesla, sold as a fantasy of burning down the freeway, of unparalleled acceleration and speed, becoming an emergency pod within which to shelter from American failure.

The Republican governor of Texas Greg Abbott tried to talk through the crisis by citing frozen-over wind turbines etc, but since the state still has 80-90% reliance on fossil fuels, it was a tough one to (non)-spin. It will become gospel in the rightosphere, but there was immediate scepticism elsewhere, and a mild sense of desperation about.

It’s just another example of the US bit by bit coming apart, as other systems — i.e. China — surge forward. It’s worth reflecting that we now spend so much time applying the term “third world” to US politics, industry, society, pleased with the apparent paradox of it, that it has now become standard.

The term for dilapidated and dysfunctional should now simply be “American”.

The demolition of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City is further evidence of this. Atlantic City, a fading seaside resort, legalised gambling in the mid-1970s, demolished its beautiful boardwalk hotels and gave tax holidays to developers to build ungainly, separated casino towers — self-enclosed, total experiences.

It worked for about 15 years, then a Supreme Court decision permitted casinos on Native American tribal lands and Atlantic City lost its exclusive access to the east coast population centres, and began its second decline. Trump had long since sold out of the place, having bankrupted it, in favour of his other casino the Taj Mahal, which also went bankrupt.

Several of the ’70s and ’80s casinos have been demolished, leaving the city a gappy no-space; the latest demolition occurred — no one had wanted to spend the money to do it — because large chunks of its cheap concrete were falling into the (mostly empty) streets below. Some form of convention centre is mooted, which will fail too, but before that it will serve time as a car park.

It occurred as Donald Trump broke his silence to do a Fox News interview and perform a controlled implosion of the Republican Party, accusing former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of being an unsmiling loser.

Since the one thing that McConnell always has is a stupid cartoonish grin plastered over his face, that seems unfair. But it’s a measure of the war that Trump seems willing to wage on the deepest reaches of the party establishment to make it over — including, it seems, the gradual movement of his family into elected positions.

That would suggest prolonged chaos, which may give a chance for the Democrats to retain the House in 2022, a pretty important hold. Why? Because if Biden, Harris or another Democrat win narrowly in 2024, it is very possible that a Republican-run House won’t certify the results.

The power grid is freezing up, the towers of power are coming down. The US right is simultaneously weakened and in control of more than two thirds of state governments.

The departure of Rush Limbaugh, aged 70, from lung cancer, marked the end of that beginning. It was Limbaugh, as an unremarkable talk DJ in the ’90s, who showed the way for the right to ditch its remnant conservative pieties and commit to noxious, wounded fantasy as an organising principle.

Against the Clintons, and the victory of the educated boomer elites they represented, Limbaugh marshalled the spitting hate of their opponents. It was Limbaugh who labelled Chelsea Clinton, then a pre-teen, as “ugly”..

Some conservative commentators objected; most acquiesced to the new warfare. Progressives couldn’t match it because to do so would undermine their politics. Its bitter, envious hate-filled tone was already the announcement of a defeat.

With Limbaugh it was a steady undercurrent, the id of right politics. Trump brought it centre stage and the Republican Party let him. It’s a politics which does not seek to build, because the only thing that can be be built is a progressive society, high tech, multicultural, educated, diverse.

The right offers system collapse and the demolition of its bankrupt estate, the politics of value it once espoused. The obvious great finale would have been for a dying Limbaugh to be blown up in Trump tower by Elon Musk’s engineers.

God knows what else will fall to the ground in the years to come.

Expect more from your journalism.

Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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