The ‘I’s of Texas
by Michael Brenner on 05 Aug 2021 1 Comment

Texas exemplifies the American ‘heartland.’ The term has been in use for only a couple of decades, but is now common currency in reference to geography and the locus of the national soul. Why should this honor be conferred on ‘fly-over’ states? Certainly not for historical reasons. There is a much stronger case to be made for Massachusetts (Plymouth Rock, Boston Tea Party, Lexington, Concord; or Philadelphia (the Constitution); or New York (Ellis Island where millions of immigrants arrived on our shores inspired by the idea of America and many finding it reified). Moreover, today those places are far more diverse representations of the country’s citizens than are nearly all of the ‘heartland’ states; contributions in the realm of Arts & Sciences are rather meager.*

‘Heartland’ is synonymous with ‘nativism,’ sharing most of its connotative meanings. It’s near universal acceptance as the cynosure of fundamental American values is indicative of the transformation in the country’s politics and public discourse that has occurred over the past 30 years.

Texas doesn’t figure at all in the American pageant until the 1830s when adventurers, misfits and Southerners on the hunt for more land and more riches penetrated the grasslands of the southern plains. Tejas was part of Mexico. By 1845, the Anglo interlopers already had stolen it. They relieved the older Mexican residents of their assets by either direct seizure or corrupt court actions that shredded written guarantees from the State of Texas that land grants originating with the King of Spain would be legally recognized. 


Along the way, they killed off a large portion of the populous Comanche and Northern Apache tribes who called the place home for a few thousand years. Texas then enthusiastically joined the Rebel cause in the Civil War. It was a wholly segregated state until the Civil Rights revolution. There were 336 lynchings between 1900 and 1955, the large majority in the eastern counties that are more ‘South’ than ‘West.’ 

There were a few lynchings of Mexicans, Chinese and the occasional ‘Indian,’ too, as was the case across the Southwest and West. ‘Indian’ lynchings were rare because, once violently suppressed, the large majority settled sullenly on their ‘reservations’ where they chose passive suicide in droves (as continues today to a lesser extent).

Up until 1965, a black person could not enter a movie theatre in the company of a white person even in Austin. And, believe it or not, the famed University of Texas Longhorns didn’t field their first black football player until 1971. Admittedly, the attitude toward minorities has changed markedly, especially at the local level. Latinos in particular are pretty well integrated in many places while large populations along the Rio Grande and around El Paso still cluster in depressed communities short of amenities. In cities like Austin, Houston and Dallas race relations are calm and the more recent influx of Indian, Chinese and other ‘exotic’ professionals has lent a cosmopolitan patina to the Texas appearance.


But - old feelings of identity, of superiority, of righteous belief that God is a white male in a Stetson hat who sports rattlesnake skin boots and rides a celestial stallion die hard. Indeed, the wave of resentment has intensified and spread - as it has across the country, with particular vehemence in the South and the ‘heartland,’ e.g. Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Idaho. 

Texas is a leader in legislation aimed at restricting black and Latino access to the voting booth, in expunging references to the history of racism from school curricula, in criminalizing public protest, in criminalizing abortion, in denying public funds (even those provided by Washington) for health care and food assistance to the poor. It is easily forgotten that a large share of the poor are non-Hispanic white - the old, the rural, the uneducated, the infirmed, the unemployed.


Nationwide, that figure is about 40%. (Texas ranks 47th among the states by measures of overall health of the populace). Most of those in the last category are apolitical, not the shock troops of the Trump insurrection. Neither are disgruntled workers and the socially marginal. Indeed, the Trump core have above average incomes and education - contrary to convenient MSM myth. The mob that stormed the Capitol did not ride to Washington on Greyhound buses – they flew.


There are two oddities about the Texas situation. First is the co-existence of the modern, high-tech, well-educated segment of the ‘new’ Texas with the nativist Texas that dominates politically and culturally. That is explicable in part because the vast majority of traditional Republicans among the relatively well-off have ‘gone with the flow’ of the Tea Party mentality and policies - in good part because it serves their financial interests. As with McCarthyism in the 1950s, today’s paranoid nativist movement is overwhelmingly Republican.


Second, the state Democratic Party is hapless – their recent tactical ‘flight’ notwithstanding. No leadership, feeble candidates, no confrontation, no confidence, no strategy - i.e. a mirror of the national party. There is a bizarre element in this situation; namely, the Democrats normally poll 45% or more in the statewide elections. Yet, despite the Republicans embrace of extremism, they are unable to pose a serious electoral challenge or to inflect the staunchly nativist political culture.


Consequently, the state is now governed in an autocratic manner. (That is what the attached summary of recent events indicates). It exhibits certain features that could be called neo-Fascist thinly veiled racism; demonization of the opposition; silencing of dissent; arbitrariness in skirting democratic procedures; violence of language and demagoguery; support for ‘hate’ groups; strong endorsement of the Trump project of seizing children from their mothers, caging them, abusing them, ‘losing’ them – not as punishment but rather as a cynical ploy to deter future would-be border crossers.


Fascism is a loaded word, for two reasons. It is often used simply as an epithet - like ‘bastard.’ Too, it conjures up images of its most extreme form: Hitler’s Nazi Germany. There is, though, a quite rigorous definition in the United States which is applicable to what is happening in the United States among the extreme Right - and within the Republican Party - especially in several ‘Red’ states. The concept of UR FASCISM was formulated by Umberto Eco, and has contemporary relevance.


Let us make no bones about it. State officials from Governor Abbott on down, the bulk of the legislature, Texas’ junior Senator Ted Cruz and many of its Representatives in Congress demonstrate in words and deeds crucial features of the Fascist mentality. It is the state of mind and emotion that counts above all in assigning the word to them. We should bear in mind that to be a Fascist does not require concentration camps, mass killings, or Kristal Nachts as occurred in Tulsa in 1921.

Those actions are a function of circumstances and opportunity to a very large extent. One can be a Fascist without being a Nazi - there is a fairly wide range of Fascisms in modern history across Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Japan. Trump properly can be called a Fascist, without qualification; so too Steve Bannon, Senators Ted Cruz (the Millenarianist), Josh Hawley (“slavery was a necessity”) and Ron Johnson.** 


So, too, Texas’ Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick: sports bar proprietor turned right-wing shock-jock turned demagogue.***


The unhappy truth is that Fascism is now in bloodstream of the American body politic. In places like Texas, you can see it circulating.


American Fascism has special features: its religious element is Evangelical Protestant rather than Catholic; it affirms dedication to the Constitution even as that document is eviscerated; its animus is directed at a plethora of devils - at home and abroad, and it has yet to win significant sympathy among the military or national security services.     


The key questions are: what are the implications of the Trump movement and the Republican Party leaning heavily in the Fascist direction; how far will that trend go in both deepening the Fascist element and in expanding its control of our political institutions?




*The ‘heartland’ states noted above - all centers of nativist ideology and legislation - together boast 7 native sons who won the Nobel Prize (all but one after leaving to pursue careers elsewhere). That is 1 less than the 8 awarded to graduates of my high school in N.Y.C.   Admittedly, there is no match to Beyonce – a Texas native.


** “The demonstrators were observing their Constitutional right to free assembly… they truly respect law enforcement” and “loved this country”


*** “And what I said… was that there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us. And I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but man, we got to take some risks and get back in the game, and get this country back up and running.”


Hours after the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted a picture of the Bible verse, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Galatians 6:7.”


[The shooting in a gay nightclub left 50 persons dead. Patrick’s staff clarified that the post had nothing to do with the tragedy and had been scheduled much in advance. Patrick was travelling outside the country at the time the tweet was posted; it was subsequently removed– Ed]

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