As we who live here are painfully aware, Texas can seem absolutely baffling to outsiders. In his latest book, “God Save Texas,” Lawrence Wright takes the myth and truth of the Lone Star State head-on in a series of essays that, the more one reads them, feel like a Texas 101 primer, the sort of thing to hand your relatives back east to explain How We in Texas Live Now.
Here are eight essential things the Austin author thinks folks need to understand about Texas.
Texas is NOT a rural state. “People look at Texas and see the myth of Texas and the cowboy and the oil man and cattleman and think of Texas as a mostly rural state,” Wright says. “Three of the 10 largest cities in America are in Texas, and the 11th is Austin. It’s very much an urban place.”
Texas no longer runs on nothing but oil. “That was true up until the ‘80s when the great bust happened,” Wright says. “Since then, the Texas economy has become much more diverse. That’s not to say that when oil falls, the economy doesn’t swoon -- it does. But it doesn’t collapse.”
Texas is a conservative state, but not as conservative as elected representatives would have you believe. “Texas has always been near the bottom for voter turnout,” Wright says. “If citizens expressed themselves at the ballot box, Texas would be already blue. Wendy Davis said Texas isn’t red; it’s nonvoting blue.”
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Which is to say: Texas wasn’t always and won’t always be a red state. "When I was a kid,” Wright says, “Texas was blue, and California was red. Texas was the state that gave us LBJ and the Great Society. California gave us Ronald Reagan and the modern conservative movement. It’s interesting to me that the legacy of each of those presidents resides in the other state.”
Also: Texas and California are mirror images. “I see them as these strands of DNA wrapped around each other and never touching but mirroring each other as they change and evolve,” Wright says. Six out of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. are in either Texas or California. Both California and Texas have majority minority populations and, ironically, deep-blue California has managed an $8 billion budget surplus while the deep-red Texas Legislature has ... not. “The really do contain a dialectic of American politics,” he says.
Right now, the Texas Legislature is about business values versus hard-right conservative values. In a state where Democrats are having a rough time of it in the Legislature, “it’s going to be up to the business community to step up” if they don’t want a Texas dominated by hardline social conservatives, Wright says. “Now that House Speaker Joe Straus is gone, there are no breaks on that kind of social conservatism, on the extreme elements of the Tea Party,” Wright says. “The model of Texas as a good place to do business has suffered as a result of hardline policies.”
Houston is the most diverse city in America. “You can really see it,” Wright says, excitement in his voice. “There isn’t a single majority ethnic group, and that replicates how Texas will be and the whole country.”
Austin is destined to be a great city. “I mean that in both senses of the word,” Wright says. “It’s getting larger by the day, but in my lifetime (Wright, a Dallas native, has lived in Austin since 1980) I have seen how again and again, a single person comes here with a vision and changes the place, be it Clifford Antone or Mike Levy or Michael Dell or John Mackey or Bill Witliff or Richard Linklater. I think that is what Austin stands for, and I think it’s still a place where that can happen. I think it’s only fairly recently that Austin lived up to its reputation. When it was younger, it was not as textured and interesting a city. The people who have moved to Austin because of what they heard was there made it more like the city it was rumored to be.”
Lawrenece Wright will be reading from, signing and discussing “God Save Texas” on April 17 at Central Presbyterian Church (200 East Eighth St.) Admission comes with the purchase of a copy of “God Save Texas” through this link. Books will be received at the event. Seating is first come, first serve. General admission tickets are also available.