“Don’t Mess With Texas.” What started as a publicity slogan for an anti-litter campaign has evolved into a rationale for resisting or protecting almost anything in Texas, such as keeping out immigrants by building a border wall. Well, Texas is getting messed with. Big time. So is the world. The patterns in the Lone State State mirror those on planet Earth. And it’s likely no gerrymandering will save mythic Texas from its encounter with the world.
Beneath the conventional views of Texas politics is the fact that we are witnessing the battle between old-world political systems and the emerging planetary civilization of the 21st century. That’s the pattern beneath the pattern of political events. The above map of Texas says it all—globalizing cosmopolitan cities (blue) surrounded by Texas nationalists (red) fearing the loss of their 1200-mile border, the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico. Along the Rio Grande are blue areas populated by humans who mostly look like the humans on the other side of the river.
Ted Cruz and his supporters want to build President Trump’s wall, while Beto O’Rourke opposes the wall. As discussed below, the border wall idea dates to at least 1995, the first time I met Texans advocating a wall along the Rio Grande—two decades before the election of President Trump. In my view, Trump’s Wall says a lot, but it is about much more than US immigration policies. Trump’s Wall is symbolic of the struggle between two views of tomorrow on planet Earth. And we saw that struggle in the Texas Senate race between Beto and Cruz. Trigger warning: The following analysis might hit some hot buttons wired to old world neurons.
Beto vs. Cruz: The Conventional Take
In the 2012 Senate race in Texas, Republican Ted Cruz received 4.4 million votes (57%), easily defeating Democrat Paul Sadler, who received 3.2 million votes. In the much discussed 2018 Senate race, Cruz received 4.2 million votes (51%) and defeated O’Rourke, who received 4 million votes (48%). Hugely popular among Democrats, O’Rourke managed to get 800,000 more votes than Sadler in 2012, while Cruz lost only 200,000 votes running on Trump’s agenda. O’Rourke’s popularity and status as a media darling could not overcome the number of voters who favored Cruz.
The bottom line is that 4.2 million Texans endorsed the Trump-Cruz regime and its highly nationalist policies—including a fully militarized border. If Trump runs again in 2020, expect him to carry Texas unless the Democrats register more voters, especially among millennials, Latin Americans, and those migrating from California. That’s the conventional analysis.
Third Coast Texas
In the 1980s, there was a stylish arts and culture magazine in Austin called Third Coast (1981–1987). The title implied the Austin scene was more like those on the West Coast and East Coast. This fit with the liberal education scene, as the University of Texas at Austin has much in common with the University of California at Berkeley. It also fit with the burgeoning high-tech scene, as the UT-Austin tech and science programs have much in common with those at Stanford and MIT. It also fit with the exploding Austin music scene. Though Third Coast ceased publication, its title has proven prophetic.
With 50,000 students, UT-Austin is ever more international and diverse in its population, like many universities around the world—especially those on the coasts of America. Austin has been “invaded” by Apple, Google, and California tech workers seeking digital opportunity in Austin’s huge high-tech economy. High-tech Texas is no accident for it was first spawned in the 1970s by UT-Austin and its powerful and far-seeing IC2 Institute (formerly the Institute for Constructive Capitalism, now marketed as Innovation-Creativity-Capital). In 1983, the global empire of Dell Computers was started in a student dorm on the UT-Austin campus. Begun as a way to promote local bands in the 1980s, SXSW has evolved into an international arts, tech, and music event, made possible by warm weather, hot tacos, and inexpensive jet travel.
Meanwhile, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth have become more international and ethnically diverse, powered by energy, education, high tech, large airports, and the economics and opportunities of globalization. Innovative for its time, the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport made the D-FW metroplex into the key midwest hub (replacing St. Louis) for products coming into the US from Europe, the Far East, and other parts of the world—especially fashion and high tech. Similarly, many Texas firms sell products and services around the world.
Down in Houston, Shell and Exxon are pumping oil out of the Earth, while NASA says our planet exists in a vast universe of two trillion galaxies stretching across 100 billion light years. Texas may not be that big after all, but there’s a lot of sky science happening in the Lone Star State—from NASA to Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket facility to the McDonald Observatory in far west Texas, where astronomers study everything from black holes to the expansion rate of the universe. That’s pretty cool! And shouldn’t we be developing a human philosophy that embraces our actual place in the universe?
“It’s Like a Whole Other Country”
To promote tourism in Texas in the 1990s, the state began a popular and long-running ad campaign. Naturally, the campaign focused on tourist sites, especially those in the spectacular Big Bend area. These ads featured the mythic Texas—the vast Texas of cattle, cowboys, and wide-open spaces.
Ironically, the vast majority of Texans have never visited these areas. Why? They are too remote for most city dwellers. To drive there from Austin takes 6–8 hours, from Dallas or Houston 9–11 hours. The nearest airport is in El Paso, which is 3–4 hours away by car. They will never see where “the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas” (as the famed song goes).
That remoteness is one reason why most Texans support a border wall. They will never see the wall in person, and they don’t care if it bespoils the beauty of wilderness areas and intrudes on the Big Bend National Park, one of the UN’s protected world biospheres. For some in the suburbs, the wall is a psychological extension of their gated communities. Perhaps they fear not having safe travels to Starbucks in their SUVs. For others, it’s a passionate political issue involving patriotism and other forces. That’s because something transformative is happening in the “country” of Texas.
The population of the Lone Star State is booming and has been for decades. The people are friendly, the weather is enjoyable (if 100 degree days don’t melt you in the summer), there is no state income tax, and there is plenty of space in the suburbs. As seen in the middle graphic, the population of Texas is radically changing. By 2020, whites might well be under 40% of the total population.
On the election map (bottom graphic), the counties with the largest cities are blue — Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. Broadly speaking, these cities are populated with more college-educated voters, a skilled and entrepreneurial workforce drawn from around the world, and a dynamic diversity seen in the arts, fashions, languages, and food cultures. At least since the 1980s, Austin, Dallas, and Houston have had vibrant and visible LGBTQ communities.
In the big cities of Texas, the populace looks more like what the human species looks like — people of different colors, cultures, and sexualities, organizing into a complex hybrid civilization that spans planet Earth. All of this is why Texas has more in common with California than it does any state in the south or midwest.
In the 21st century, Texas’ big cities are indeed becoming a third coast for the influx of residents and trade, born of globalization. This new hybrid civilization is far from perfect and not without serious challenges, especially those involving corporate power and human narcissism—mindless consumerism, environmental destruction, and the complete disconnection from nature and the night skies. These planetary patterns are happening in Texas and around the world. Those wanting the wall are pitting Texas against the world, precisely as Texas’s big cities mirror the diversity of the world.
Caravans and Migration
Much was said during the 2018 elections about the immigrant “caravan” marching north through Central America, apparently destined for the United States. President Trump and Fox News call it an “invasion.” So did Cruz.
The caravan’s causes are very complex. According to Jerry Flores, there are multiple reasons for these migrations: poverty and violence, fears of gangs and drug traffickers, droughts and floods, and the legacy of US intervention in Central America, where the CIA propped up corrupt regimes to benefit American corporations and battle the Cold War. The corruption, inequalites, and injustices still exist. Add on the failure of the American Drug War throughout Latin America and we have a decades-long disaster.
Fox News and American nationalists conveniently forget their ancestors migrated in caravans, too. Not on foot, but on ships, from 1492 to the 1900s. For those arriving in the early 1900s, previous colonizers and conquistadors had already “invaded” and annihilated the cultures of Native Americans, marginalizing the few survivors to reservations far from the cities and the “huddled masses” arriving by the millions from Europe.
Acceleration Toward A Planetary Civilization
Since our emergence and evolution in Africa, humanity has been migrating and globalizing for at least 70,000 years. At first on foot, then horse, boat, train, car, and plane. Archaeological evidence suggests the first “Texans” arrived on foot about 10,000 years ago. Border walls and travel bans show that our premodern worldviews have failed to evolve with our hypermodern world — a planet encircled by networks of jets, ships, and media technologies. See the eight maps below.
Migration is accelerating everywhere, from people to goods to information. How can anyone deny we are building a planetary civilization? Yet, far too many people are still wedded to old-world political systems, defending tribal beliefs and militarizing national borders — as if they are are trying to stop the 21st century from unfolding. Our ideologies have yet to catch up to the world emerging from our sciences and technologies.
Border Wall Texans in 1995
My first encounter with Texans wanting a border wall was at the “United We Stand America” convention in Dallas in 1995, broadcast nationally by CNN and other TV news organizations. United We Stand was formed by supporters of Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who ran for president as an independent in 1992. Perot received 19% of the popular vote, enough to swing the election from incumbent President George Bush to Bill Clinton. Many experts thought Perot’s followers were building a viable, long-term third party — the “Reform Party.” Of course, all of this pointed toward the Tea Party, while the billionaire Perot prefigures the billionaire Trump.
At the time, I worked in Dallas as a professor after completing my PhD at UT-Austin. A colleague and I attended the event because educators were admitted for free, and we were curious about Perot’s philosophy and his followers. At the event, there were numerous tables set up for people advocating all kinds of conservative, patriotic, and economic issues.
There were also two or three tables of Texans handing out flyers advocating a border wall. In discussions with them, three things became clear: 1) they were super-patriotic nationalists, 2) they were highly religious, and 3) they believed Texas and America were under siege at the Rio Grande. All three reasons comprise the border myth justifying the wall. Supporters will say the wall is about “security,” but it’s more than that. It’s their 21st century Alamo!
“Remember the Alamo”
Texans are proud of their history. Central to that history is the Battle of the Alamo, immortalized in the epic film starring and directed by John Wayne. Playing Texas hero Davy Crockett, Wayne was Hollywood’s prototypical American warrior — tall, tough, and ready to fight for America in war movies. Legend has it that Crockett, upon losing a Congressional election in Tennessee, said: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” Crockett found his own hell at the Alamo.
As dramatized in The Alamo, Crockett led 200 Texans against 1800 Mexican soldiers led by General Santa Ana. For thirteen days, the Texans defended the Alamo before being wiped out in total defeat. “Remember the Alamo” became a battle cry for the Texans when they defeated Santa Ana at San Jacinto, in a surprise attack the next month. The victorious Texans soon founded the Republic of Texas and the border with Mexico was set at the Rio Grande. Texas was indeed a “whole other country” for nine years, its own nation before joining the United States in 1945. For the following century, the border was open, with people from Texas and Mexico freely crossing the Rio Grande, trading with each other, marrying among each other, sharing the river for irrigation, and so on.
In the climactic battle in The Alamo, the Mexican soldiers are shown scaling and swarming over the walls of the Alamo, valiantly defended by the Texans. I fear this vision is how many Texas nationalists see the border now. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it. Hollywood legends have power.
The Border Myth
The Battle of the Alamo is part of the myth of Texas. So is the legend of cattle and oil, as dramatized in the epic Hollywood film Giant (1954), starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. In the final scene of Giant, Hudson (playing an oil-rich Texas rancher) starts a fist-fight with the racist owner of a roadside diner because he refuses to serve Hispanics. More than 60 years later, the same racist issues exist. Why?
What follows might anger some readers, but it is the truth. Better to face it than remain in denial.
The Alamo’s depiction of valiant Texans fending off Mexican soldiers swarming over walls subtly illustrates the myth of a pure and faithful “Texas,” a state and mindset ordained by God, whose followers are destined to rule vast lands after a great struggle. This is a complete utopian fantasy, long used to justify the racial conquest of “Texas” and “America” by ideologies that migrated to this continent via caravans from Europe. Texas has never been this myth—just ask the Native Americans who were wiped out and African Americans who were enslaved. Everything at the Texas border follows from this myth. The Drug War, the Immigration War, every war which justifies both the internal conquest and external deterrence against the “siege”—from the DEA and ICE in the interior of America to the wall along the Rio Grande.
As shown by President Trump and Ted Cruz, this myth has evolved into a 21st-century nationalist religion, supported by nonstop patriotism and propaganda. It can only be a militant myth that justifies ripping families apart at the border, while also humiliating them by placing them in cages and pens. It’s an immoral disgrace performed by a nationalist, militarized police-state along the border. There is no other conclusion to draw. I own land outside Marfa in far west Texas (60 miles from the Rio Grande) and have seen the police-state first hand, having been harassed several times by Border Patrol agents while merely passing through the checkpoints located along Texas highways. And these checkpoints are 40–50 miles in from the border!
Of course, President Trump was not the first president to send troops to the US-Mexico border — he was preceded by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. In many ways, the Democrats have proven no better than the Republicans on the border. Perhaps Beto will be better. So far, we’re saddled with failed policy after failed policy, above and below the Rio Grande. Myths and walls, supported by the military.
Cruz, Beto, and the Future
To be fair to Texas, these issues are playing out around the world. Similar struggles and tribal battles are erupting as people cling to myths and outmoded narratives—to fend off the diverse planetary civilization emerging in their cities and on their screens. Side-by-side, a progressive global society looking toward a better tomorrow versus ideologies desperately clinging to a mythic yesterday.
Art, science, and technology are accelerating forward, yet many still rely on pseudoscience, paranormalism, and superstitions to explain their origins and destiny on Earth—all of which fuel denials of evolution, climate change, and ecological destruction. Hell, 41% of Americans think ancient aliens have taught us everything we know! Is this any way to run a planet?
Desperate to revive yesterday, Russia and America are bringing back the Cold War, as hard-core nationalists mess with each other as proxy for the war against planetary civilization. Meanwhile, social media and the internet have produced an electronic consciousness pulsing on our screens, minds fully tribalized inside planetary networks of fans, followers, filter bubbles, and echo chambers. Thus, when people think of humanity’s future, the tribal has overwhelmed the universal. (Yet, science shows we share 99.5% of the same DNA and our bodies are made of the most common elements of the cosmos—hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon).
Of course, I would be incredibly naive to think that tribalism and nationalism can be overcome any time soon, in Texas or America or the world. That’s not happening in my lifetime.
In my view, Cruz and Trump are on the wrong side of history, at least the long-term future of the human species. But until then, it’s quite likely there will be a border wall from San Diego to Brownsville, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. America and Texas vs. the World. It’s also likely the wall will become a graffiti-covered ruin. Beto’s anti-wall message of inclusion and unity provides hope and optimism for many in America. That’s great. But more is needed for the long-term success of America, Texas, and the world.
For those who want a better future for humanity and the planet, there are universal issues that can unite us in our cities and across borders—human rights, ecological destruction, and a scientific account of our species and life on Earth. Rather than building walls and waging wars, we should be doing everything we can to develop a sane, secular, sustainable, cooperative civilization that takes care of this planet, our only home.
So far, art and science have failed to develop a widely-embraced cultural narrative that connects our species to our evolutionary origins on Earth and our destiny in NASA’s universe. We’re tiny, yet brainy and creative and can achieve great things together. That’s why we should embrace our place in this majestic universe and create the new philosophy it makes possible. The first step is to think as members of the human species, not merely as Texans or Americans. It’s time to grow up.
A native Texan, Barry has written about Texas and its existence before. He wrote the text for Peter Granser’s art-photography book, Signs, wherein the German photographer explores Texas culture at the end of the Bush presidency. Published in 2008 by the art publishing house of Hatje-Cantz in Stuttgart.