My recent visit to Texas, where I grew up, called up a mighty wind of mixed feelings. As a naturalized, east-coast liberal, I object to much about Texas – especially its overriding rejection of the common good. The historic myth of rugged independence has evolved into an ugly garrison defense against anything the least bit progressive. And yet, the Crepe Myrtles, live oaks, magnolias, and honeysuckle were as winsome as ever. The cardinals and mockingbirds, the mourning doves and pesky grackles were right where I had left them. Katydids offered a welcome-home sound at bedtime. My friends and relatives were as generous, loving, and capable of disinterested judgment as they had always been. It’s confusing.
It was hot there, of course;107 on the day I left to return to New York. That was hot even for Austin. And for days it had been over a hundred. Everybody sweated. Whether you were a common-good person or an individual-rights person, it was the same hot. Nobody could ignore it. But responses were markedly different – about as different as the disagreement that led to the Civil War.
The controlling cohort of Texans believe that human actions are not a cause of extreme weather, and they fight for the right to behave however they want and to prevent remedial government action. Others, the weaker and less numerous portion of the population, are thwarted at every attempt, personal and civic, to make helpful changes.
The individual-rights people hold that keeping your thermostat at whatever damned temperature you want is a God-given right. The common-good people counter with “but if nobody set them lower than 75, we’d benefit greatly. Less power would be used and less would have to be produced, which is a reason why it’s so hot since it comes from burning fossil fuels.” But the individual-rights bunch believe that burning fossil fuel doesn’t hurt a thing, and belief trumps facts. Nevertheless, common-good people make the case for using more alternate-source fuel. It’s a tough sell, though. The avowedly free-market legislature, which is all but owned by the fossil-fuel lobby, has passed rules against alternate fuel. It’s hard on (the oil) business, and it’s woke. Besides that, those wind farms defile the iconic look of endless pastures dotted with cattle. “Too bad,” the common-good people respond. “If cattle were a country, they’d be the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse grass, so if we all stopped eating meat, maybe it wouldn’t be so hot.” And so on.
The individual-rights people are winning the climate-change battle at every turn. In doing so, they are destroying life on earth and making day-to-day Texas increasingly unlivable. Since we may have little time left before it’s all over, you would think we would start being, well, nice, to each other, maybe cooperate a little. Isn’t that the normal reaction when the ship is sinking? Join hands and sing Nearer my God to Thee? That’s not happening, though – not in Texas, where I grew up and for which I still have some affection.
Another thing. The white, born-again men who are in charge of things down there hold as an article of faith that government is the enemy. Government must not require vaccinations or regulate gun ownership or water use. It must not permit Austin’s prohibition of plastic bags. Such actions would diminish personal liberty. And yet – and yet – those same men have decreed that government does belong in doctor’s offices. Women’s bodies are too important to allow women to make their own choices about their care.
I won’t go on.
The Texas way of ordering life is pretty similar to that of Florida and some other states, but I didn’t grow up in Florida, and I didn’t accumulate there a defining cache of happy memories. What I don’t like about Florida and its cruel governor makes me concerned and angry. (I sometimes feel the same way about the mayor of my adopted home, New York City.) The Texas way hurts me more personally. It’s destroying something that I cannot help but hold dear.
The Texas of my childhood was objectionable in many ways. We were segregated; women had even fewer rights and less freedom than now; the petrochemical industry was as revered as the church. But I was a child, and only the Leave It to Beaver parts registered with me.
As much as I deplore what Texas continues to become, I will admit it has not changed as much as I have. Either way, when I visit there now, I have a heartsick sense of loss as I delight in the live oaks and katydids.
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A Franklin Manor Christmas and A Franklin Manor Epiphany. Deep-snow, magic realism.
12,000 Miles of Road Thoughts. Old Van, Old Man, Recovering Hippie, Dying Cat. Travel narrative/memoir