The mere fact that I was born in Texas does not give me the right to sneer and disrespect the state or the people therein, and it’s totally unfair to label a happenstance of geography and cartography that has carved out a large chunk of the land mass we call the United States as the bilge. Texas is a beautiful state with a lot of great people and places, ranging from the Gulf Coast to the rolling hills and desert of the west; I have a fond memory of driving across it in early August and being charmed by the variety of its open spaces and the friendliness of the people I met as I took Sam for an early-morning walk in Pecos.
So it must be just the confluence of circumstance and karma that three of the strangest and news-notable events of the past year have either started in Texas or are playing out there: Ebola, Jade Helm 15, and the assault on offensive cartoons of Mohammed by a couple of road-company jihadists from Arizona.
Of course the Ebola outbreak of last fall didn’t start in Texas; some poor fellow already infected with the virus happened to land there, get sick, and ended up dying in a Texas hospital that at first sent him home with two aspirin. The nationwide panic that ensued was fueled by ignorance and to no small degree a midterm election that was desperate to find something to scare the crap out of the voters. But it started in Dallas and gave the local politicians yet another thing to blame on incompetence of the federal government, all the while demanding that they do something before everyone in the Lone Star State was wiped out. Fortunately (except for the first victim), no one else died of Ebola, and once the election was over, it was like it never happened. Two months later, a much more infectious and potentially dangerous epidemic of measles swept the country, but since it started in California and there was no one running for office, we dealt with it calmly. (Also “Ebola” sounds much scarier than “measles,” a disease we associate with childhood and cute poems about Christopher Robin.)
The paradox of rough-tough gun-totin’ Texans freaking out over a military exercise titled Jade Helm 15 that they see as a cover for martial law, gun confiscation, and a Red Dawn-style invasion by the forces of evil under the thrall of the Secret Muslim Kenyan Usurper is both amusing and scary: amusing that a military exercise that has been openly planned for a long time and is a reprise of pretty much the same exercise that took place in 2005, and scary that otherwise allegedly sane people who drive around with SUPPORT OUR TROOPS bumper stickers would think that the Special Forces of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines could pull it off. What happened to the bumbling, fumbling, snafu-prone federal government? Have they actually been using their legendary molasses-like pace as a cover for their truly swift and overwhelming abilities to seize an entire state without tipping someone off? How very clever.
As with Ebola, this story couldn’t have gotten legs without the help and encouragement of the politicians who instinctively know how to exploit the fear and loathing of low-information voters, and Texas excels at electing such exploiters as Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Rep. Louis Gohmert, all of whom have gone so far over the top with the boogedy-boogedy about Jade Helm 15 that the voice of reason — at least in terms of defending the troops if not the president — is former Gov. Rick Perry, who heretofore was famous for succeeding George W. Bush both as governor and as a buffoon.
When Pam Geller, the anti-Islamic agitator, decided to sponsor a contest to see who could draw the most offensive cartoon of Mohammed, she chose a suburb of Dallas, probably based on the assumption that she would draw in, so to speak, a number of like-minded participants. Maybe Ms. Geller didn’t know that there is a substantial Muslim population in Texas and they’ve been there for over 150 years. Or maybe she did know and was doing it for the same reason someone who really hates Catholics would host a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective or display Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” across the street from St. Patrick’s cathedral.
Ms. Geller has the First Amendment on her side and she said she was no different than Charlie Hebdo and their satirical cartoons, and when the two guys rolled up in their car and tried to shoot up the place, she got exactly the response she was hoping for. (Taking a cue from the Jade Helm 15 conspirators, it does make one wonder if they weren’t set up by her organization, and the fact that a sharp police officer was able to kill them before they got out of the parking lot means they were collateral damage to her show.) Had they not shown up, no one would have noticed the event at all. Now she can claim that ISIS is in Texas, and if they’re there, they could be everywhere.
Texas doesn’t have the monopoly on batshit crazy and stupidity in America; after all, I’m writing this in Florida. But whether it is because of its size, its diversity, and instinct for kneejerk repulsion against anything that doesn’t come from there (or they can lay claim to), it’s had a rough go. And now that Ted Cruz is running for president and Rick Perry is planning to try again, the good folk of the Lone Star state can expect even more excitement. But this is also the state that turned a massacre by the Mexicans at the Alamo into a rallying cry, so I expect they’ll make it.