On Texas Nationalism

I'm sitting at the bar, sipping a margarita, and chatting pleasantly with two older couples.

On Texas Nationalism

So. I'm sitting at the bar, sipping a margarita, and chatting pleasantly with two older couples. At first, they're talking about their grandkids and whether they want to order fish.

Then the conversation turns to the horrific fire in Maui--a fire whose ghastliness is impossible to overstate--and one of the older gentlemen decides that there's a spiritual element of this event that needs to be taught. Hawaii is a liberal state, he says, so it makes sense God would set it alight. This assertion of particular providence hangs in the air, uncontested.

I don't think it's worth getting into how I tried to push back. Suffice to say I'm not sure how to deal with this degree of shamelessness. A shamelessness where randos think they're prophetic because they watch TV, believe their entire Facebook feed, and sometimes go to church.


Only about a week ago I left Missouri, an extremely conservative state. It was the first in the nation to ban nearly all abortions after Dobbs. But something stands out about political culture in Texas. To be sure, it has a peculiar intensity that does not always feel ideological.

I dunno. There's a lot to love about this state. Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett became superstars in part because of how they sold Texas to the rest of America. Harvey Mansfield quotes a song performed by Lovett in his 2007 Jefferson Lecture: “That’s right you’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” It's hard to argue with a country which declares its devotion to you. It's even harder to argue when it feeds you with Thai soups rich with lemongrass and coconut milk, juicy and tender barbeque ribs, and creamy, garlicky hummus. I have eaten very well in Texas from an incredible variety of cuisines.

Moreover, activists in Texas are superhuman, genuine candidates for sainthood. They have taught me to accept, say, a flash drive offered by someone who is homeless. They helped show me that people are crushed by our world in how they're made to feel useless.

Still, the peculiar intensity of Texas' main political culture should not be underestimated. I sat with yogurt and a muffin at a hotel's complimentary breakfast while Fox News blared on a large screen. Parents managed their kids, workers arranged the day's schedule. The news station was from a different planet. The anchor repeatedly pushed a Democratic politician to say the only reason for prosecutions in an attempted coup was to distract from the saga of the President's son. The segment felt horribly awkward; the anchor was administering a sort of loyalty test. I tried to focus on my task, as I had to drive from Dallas to Odessa. It would be over a hundred degrees for good stretches of the journey, including some where there would be no place to stop for miles. The car's air conditioning would help, but I wanted to have a rough idea where I could get hydration and step out of the car. My object was to arrive healthy in an oil boomtown so I could start teaching as soon as possible. I found myself transfixed by the loud screen.

You could say plenty of people in other states are brainwashed by the background. Sometimes, not even the background. I remember someone talking about older gentlemen who gathered at a McDonald's in Oklahoma to watch Fox News. It was their daily routine. However, I did leave Dallas wondering what it means to sell citizens on an identity which has nothing to do with their daily lives.


During the trip I encountered two other curiosities. A giant Trump sign in Spanish around Abilene stood out to me, but before that, a gas station in the middle of nowhere had almost esoteric signage. Next to the gas pumps, on poles supporting the canopy, there were safety instructions and corporate branding. Someone had designed labels that looked like they were a part of the branding--if you didn't take careful notice, you'd think they came with the poles--and those labels said "FJB."

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That's what prompted this reflection. Who takes the time to carefully design labels that could fit with any other brand? Moreover, what to do with the notion that "f___ the President" unites brands, maybe even unites a culture?

Again, this sort of thing happens in other states, but they do not have Texas nationalism. There are no romantic memories of a time when their state was a wholly independent republic, of the Alamo being avenged by Texans alone. What's interesting to me is how a fierce sense of independence serves the lawlessness of venture capitalists and corporate shills. There's money in making you think you're doing something daring advocating for Trump in Spanish or crafting clever but vulgar stickers. I guess that's a source of shamelessness, to not know the difference between an identity and a label. It's hard to see how self-knowledge is even possible in such situations. It's funny to be in a state that is unique yet struggling to achieve authenticity.