So Gail Collins sorta ruined my weekend. The columnist for The New York Times could not have known that I had not planned to pick up another book this week, especially with the EuroCup competition starting today. Still recovering from Robert Caro’s latest forest-killer on Lyndon Johnson, I thought I had made enough time for a story about the history of the Mossad. Reading about LBJ and about how Israel ruthlessly wages universal war against its enemies is not easy. It is going to take me longer to read 200 pages of Collins’ As Texas Goes... as 1,000 pages of Caro. Laughing consumes more time than you think. It has been years since I went from beef and bourbon to cotton candy, and you know how long that takes to eat.
There no doubt will be more to say on Collins’ book (on page 32 so far) but I saw her hawking it on MSNBC on Wednesday. In the ensuing discussion with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, none of them could put a finger on why Texans feels their state is so special. They like most people could not get beyond the surprise that, for good and bad, Texans care a lot about their state – a state that seems to have inordinate influence over the nation’s life, as Collins believes.
Collins asks why Texas should have so much influence over the nation since it comprises only one-fiftieth of the country. One of fifty? This howling absurdity verges on madness. But I do not want to dwaddle or dwiddle about Texas’ contributions to the world (like the invention of the computer chip or masterminding humans landing on the moon) or its demerits (anything with the last name of Bush or monstrously wasteful stadiums or the presidential assassination in Dealey Plaza). No. More important is the reason for the singularity of thought through which Texans view their state.
People do not realize that only until the early 1950s that San Antonio was the state’s largest city. The point is that the state was overwhelmingly rural…and overwhelming large for the human consciousness of the time. We have counties bigger in Texas than some states. Today, the world is compressed but back then when part of the Texas identity was forming, miles upon miles of emptiness – threatening emptiness – greeted one and all. For the Anglo settlers, the only way to protect themselves was to circle the wagons against menacing “Indians” and the inevitable invasion from Mexico that they, having encroached unlawfully on Mexican territory, knew was coming.
So in addition to building fortifications throughout the territory, the early settlers built psychological fortifications in their minds that concentrated on survival in concentrated places, generating a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages take on the characteristics of their captors. Think Patty Hearst. In this case, the captors were Fear and Insecurity that bred a bombastic sense of self that continues to this day.
The Tejano, Mexican and Mexican-American populations, atttacked as they were by the Anglo invasion and that today make up its HispanicLatino population, took on much of the same insecure, defensive psychological bearing that makes it just as vulnerable to super-size the importance of the state. But it is not all exaggeration. I was in Coach Tom Henry’s Texas history class when the deep, senatorial voice of the school’s principal, a man named Roscoe Newell, came over the loudspeaker to dismiss us somberly from class on Nov. 22, 1963.
Every time I drive through Dallas on Interstate 35 heading north to my sister’s house in Denton, I look to the right and gaze upon the building that once housed the Texas Schoolbook Depository from which the bullets exploded that killed John Kennedy. I visualize the presidential limousine roaring down the same lanes.
The stupendous breadth of that event riveted the world and resonates to this day. That the assassination occurred in Texas does not surprise me. It never has. But then I am a Texan – born and bred — and I suspect we are not done yet — for good and bad..
Postscript: The reason for the depository is another blog. It represents Texas’ nefarious influence on textbooks throughout the country. Not one of the good stories.
Feel free to forward these blogs adapted from previous writings, with additional thoughts published invariably in between.