Musings: On the Road in the State of Denial

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They stuck out like sore thumbs, just like the dilapidated houses often found at the end of their gravel driveways. It starts with a lone sign at the end of a long drive somewhere south of Glen Rose and grows into a spattering as you pass through a small town square. Not all of the houses are blights along a stretch of Texas highway. Some are bigger homes with manicured lawns, some are struggling small businesses waving flags in front of their workshops. 

It is, altogether, not what you would expect several months after a candidate loses an election, but in many ways, this stretch from North Texas through the Panhandle is the land that time left behind, the Trump signs along the highway a painful reminder that many of our own neighbors are playing with a very different set of facts than we are.

This is the part of Texas folks sometimes refer to as the red wall. Rural counties without much industry or investment desperate for anyone to care about the state of their town who have, nevertheless, voted consistently and loyally for Republicans. Year after year, election after election, checking any name with an R behind it.

And where has it gotten them? As I made my way for the Texas/New Mexico border on Friday morning I couldn’t help but wonder when the last time, if ever, Ted Cruz or Dan Patrick or Greg Abbott drove these stretches of highway and saw the sum total of decades of conservative policy orthodoxy splayed out in front of them? 

In fact, as I made a stop in Sudan, Texas on Friday morning to jump on a conference call I was given an update on Ted Cruz’s CPAC performance, which was wrapping up around that time. Cruz boasted to the rowdy crowd that Orlando was nice, just not quite as nice as Cancun, turning his shameful act of abandonment into a sick bit of gallows humor. 

As I passed by trailer parks and shut down factories, I wondered if any of his voters would hold Cruz to account for his follies. After all, an eleven-year-old boy died during the Texas freeze inside the walls of a trailer home that wasn’t much different than those I drove past. How many of these folks sat in the dark, freezing and praying that the lights would come back on so they could fire their furnace up?

How many families rushed their mothers and fathers and daughters and sons to the emergency room when exposure set in? How many people lost entire paychecks of groceries to spoilage when their refrigerators were dead for days? How did those people scramble to feed their families when grocery stores and businesses across the state were also without power and closed?

Does anyone ever stop to think about the people we leave behind every day in this state because our public policy is stuck in the stone age? 

It is easy to forget the way most folks live if you spend your days comfortably in the bubble of Austin, or Dallas, or Houston. But seeing it all at ground level genuinely makes you wonder how much heartbreak the folks in our rural communities will have to endure before they realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself my entire life. I grew up in a small town not very different from many of these rural enclaves throughout Texas and am accustomed to the unfortunate rhythms of life at the whim of whichever factory would close up shop that week. Jobs that leave and never come back. Hospitals closing, forcing you to drive further and further through the dark to reach an emergency room. Schools that can barely keep the ceilings from leaking much less educate our children.

And yet, for so many Texans this is just the cost of doing business in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in over two decades. 

Sure, you could have a new hospital, but that would cost money, and nothing is more important than keeping your taxes low.

Sure, we could buy more books for your small school district, but that costs money, too.

And, yeah, it would be nice if our electrical grid was weatherized and modernized and actually lived up to the bluster they’ve sold us for decades. But that would require a little regulation, and heaven forbid we ever seek an approach that puts people above the market.

When you make it out to this stretch of Texas you experience several sad realizations but one that hit me the hardest was just how many houses looked like they’d been through a Gulf Coast hurricane season and forever left in a state of disrepair.

One red Trump-Pence 2020 sign sat at the end of a gravel driveway that backed up to a house that seemed like it was sinking into the ground, its detached garage literally crumbling from one corner as the foundation disintegrated.

Surely, that can’t be someone’s house, you might think. It must be an abandoned property someone just heartlessly stuck a Trump sign in front of. But then you see the front door open and someone steps onto the porch with their morning coffee.

Or you breeze by the house with a homemade Trump sign painted on the side of an old tractor-trailer, a collection of rusted-out cars dotting the property. If you look at your rearview once you’ve passed it you would notice the sign on the other side of the trailer: “Cheap parts, cash only.”

Or, my personal favorite, passing through a long stretch of farmland and reaching the end of its driveway and seeing a lone flag floating over everything. The cheap but massive flag, manufactured in China, had once said Trump-Pence 2020, but in a bit of irony too good to be true, the flag had been ripped in half by the wind, right down the middle of the “U” in Trump’s name.

All told, I passed by two or three dozen Trump signs, and my bemusement gradually became a blind rage. How could so many people not see that they’ve been lied to so badly? At what point do the unkept promises of Texas Republicans become too much for them to bear? 

If we want to succeed as a state we need to figure out how we can bridge the gap between what these Texans can see and what they choose to believe. There’s still a better tomorrow waiting for us, but we won’t truly reach it unless we can all get there together.

Adam Moss/ Wikimedia Commons

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