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“God Save Texas,” by Lawrence Wright

Posted in Reviews - of books, mostly by EloiSVM42 on November 1, 2018

The complete title of this book is: God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State. It is equal parts political commentary, travelogue and memoir, but the primary theme is the iniquity and the willfully squandered opportunities that make Texas what it is today.

Lawrence Wright is a particular kind of Texan, my favorite kind. He is steeped in Texas but thinks and feels more broadly (Wright writes today for The New Yorker). There are many such Texans, just not quite enough quite yet.

This book mirrors What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank, in a way. Both describe a hidebound political environment. They differ in that what the matter is with Kansas is ignorance and stupidity. What the matter is with Texas is ignorance and meanness.

Texas’ politics are a bigger influence on the nation than Kansas’ because Texas is, well, bigger. Texas is in a terrible place politically, and it is warping national politics with its influence. Texas is gaining population rapidly and with it more legislative representation. As Wright observes, Texas is “moving further rightward and dragging the country with it.”

But Texas’ population growth can be a good thing. I’d like to think that its politics will change with this growth, particularly among minorities and in-migration from more liberal states. I’m hopeful about this, because I need to be. We shall see.

An aside: Texans are already more enlightened and liberal than their government. We can blame rural/urban legislative imbalance and Gerrymandering for this. Gerrymandering is the most insidious form of voter suppression, because you can vote, and think your vote counts, but it doesn’t because of where it has been recorded. With other forms of voter suppression, you know you are being cheated.

I like Frank’s writings, but Wright is the better writer. (That was an odd sentence.) I enjoyed the writing in this book enormously. On the other hand, I think Frank looks at the political problems of his state, equally as odious, more squarely in the eye. Wright is sentimental toward his home state in a way Frank is not toward his erstwhile one.

Having lived more than half of my adult life in Texas, I agree with the subjects Wright has selected to explain Texas, among them: oil, Dallas, Houston (the city and the man), Austin (the city and the man), Big Bend Country, birds, Molly Ivins and Willy Nelson. They resonate with me also.

I think Wright characterizes Sam Houston correctly, but shortchanges Stephen F. Austin. He criticizes Austin for bringing slaves to his colony, and so slavery to Texas, which cannot be denied. However, were it not for Austin’s enterprise, bravery and diplomacy, there wouldn’t be a Texas, only a larger Mexico. Austin set the table for Texas. He is its most important founding father.

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