Monday, January 08, 2024

What's the Matter With Texas?


National Ranching Heritage Center
Lubbock, Texas

I just returned from a week-long pilgrimage to the places I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, and I'm full of both nostalgia and regret for what was once and for what yet lingers -- the best food in the most unlikely places, unfailingly friendly and accommodating people with great senses of humor, straight roads with unlimited visibility, and an economy dependent on the Oglalla acquifer which they've been pumping dry for over 100 years. When the water's gone, everything's gone.

I love the people individually. Every old friend and every new acquaintance, instantly welcoming, accommodating, and best of all, funny. But here's my problem -- really since I went off to a Baptist college and started learning things -- why did the collective that is Texas decide that what it needed was a Governor Gregory Wayne Abbott, who wants to rewrite the U.S. Constitution more his way with a "Convention of States" and who thinks the best way to keep out undesirables is to embed saw blades in the Rio Grande, and Attorney General Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr., who once threatened to sue any school district that required masks on students during the height of COVID and who offered support to any county clerk of court who defied the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. The voting majority of Texans seems to enjoy this level of political meanness -- especially against women -- or they wouldn't keep reelecting this caliber of public official.

Both Abbott and Paxton are obnoxious supremacists, backed up by lots of agreement at every political level of elective office under them, agreement about all sorts of grievous liberal tendencies, especially regarding the bodies of women and the activities of people who like sandals better than boots. You get my drift. Texas went for Trump (though it was by only 52%, so there's always bright hope for a turnaround). The whole state of Texas, collectively, has decided to act like the worst preachers we used to know as teens.

It doesn't make sense. 

The Panhandle of Texas is littered with place names that speak the dirt-truth about the landscape: Plainview, Levelland, Shallowater, Bushland, Lakeview, South Plains, Littlefield. Or names representing necessary objects for simple living (at least as it evolved among the first white Anglo settlers in the late-19th Century): Earth, Muleshoe, Spade, Cactus, White Deer. These were weather-beaten, knowledgeable, and enduring people of the soil whose descendants individually practice kindness. Why should their current collective identity as a state resemble a cat-'o-nine-tails.

Why, in 1948, the citizens of the tiny town of Monroe in Lubbock County, smack in the middle of the Panhandle, petitioned to change its name to New Deal, which was done and lives still on sign posts as a reminder that once upon a time these people of the plain soil really liked the socialism of FDR. But today, Lubbock itself, the 6th largest city in Texas with some 40,000 university students, is also among the most consistently conservative large cities in the state. The city of Lubbock went for Trump by 64%. I have no words, but I have organizing suggestions if anybody wants to turn that around.

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