Wissot: The two Americas of Texas are analogous of the country as a whole (column)
Texas true. Texas blue. Is that what Beto did to you? Those were supposed to be the opening lines to this column. I wrote them in anticipation of Beto O’Rourke’s upset victory over Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.
But a funny thing happened on election night: O’Rourke lost. Not only lost but got beat by more than 200,000 votes. So much for my giddy hope that Texas was about to become bluer by electing the first Democrat to statewide office in 24 years.
Texas didn’t turn blue. It’s still a solidly red state, but not as red as you might think. In reality, there are two Americas in Texas, much as there are two Americas in this deeply divided nation of ours.
There is the Texas of myth and lore. The Texas of Marlboro man machismo; of oil tycoons and silver barons; of men wearing Stetson hats and women sporting lacquered hairdos traipsing through the terminals at DFW airport; of longhorn steers and blackbuck antelope; of cowboys real and urban; of pickup trucks and juke joints; of rednecks and ranchers; of Don’t Mess With Texas and Remember the Alamo.
A true picture of modern day Texas? Partially — but not completely. Some of it seems to have more in common with scripts from the wildly popular 1980s television show “Dallas” than it does with the lives being led by ordinary Texans today.
But the slice of red America that voted for Cruz on election night seemed to represent this mythology of Texas more than the blue electorate that embraced O’Rourke. It was the largely older, rural, white population of the state that was responsible for Cruz’ re-election.
His path to victory demonstrated that. There are 254 counties in Texas. O’Rourke only won 32 of them. More than half of the little more than 4 million votes he garnered came from the five largest and overwhelmingly urban counties in the state. His margin of victory over Cruz in Dallas County (Dallas) was almost 2-1. In Travis County (Austin), it was 3-1. And in Harris County (Houston), he beat Cruz by almost 200,000 votes.
Cruz won by cobbling together majorities in 222 of the smallest and mostly rural counties in the state. (“Texas election results,” New York Times, Nov. 7, 2018)
So what do O’Rourke’s voters look like? They are the urban millennials, more educated suburbanites and Hispanics statewide on whom Democrats are counting to vote in greater numbers for Texas to turn blue. The O’Rourke campaign always believed “Texas was not a red state, but a non-voting state.” It was those voters showing up for O’Rourke who enabled him to run a competitive race. (“Can a Democrat ever win in Texas?” Andrew Rice, New York Magazine, July 9-22, 2018)
Lawrence Wright wrote in his excellent book on the political culture of Texas, “God Save Texas,” that “if Texas ever went blue, there would be a Democratic lock on the presidency.” (“God Save Texas,” 2018, p. 318)
Lest liberals like me get ahead of ourselves in relishing a blue Texas someday, we are a long way off from that happening.
It will come when the demographic time bomb of a growing Hispanic population, and a millennial generation predicted to dwarf in numbers baby boomers like me, detonates. I firmly believe that the two divided Americas that we see now will ultimately coalesce into an America that is younger, more inclusive, secular, tolerant and spearheaded by women and Latinos in positions of political power.
A country that is more liberal than it is now.
I don’t expect to be around to see it. Like many of my fellow baby boomers, I plan to be too busy being dead to notice. I think the older among us will have to die off in order to make room for the more progressive generations replacing us.
Or, as a good friend of mine used to say, “We are making progress one funeral at a time.”
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.