For years now, my online GetReligion mini-biography has identified me as a "prodigal Texan." That has been my way of saying that I will always, to some degree, be a Texan, but that my view of the Lone Star state is not quite the same as the natives who cannot conceive of living anywhere else.
But I get Texas. Please trust me on that, by which I mean that I understand the forces that make Texas tick. I keep a can of Wolf brand chili in my kitchen pantry just in case any visiting Texans ask me That Question.
This leads me, of course, to that first-person piece called "What Makes Texas Texas" written by Manny Fernandez of the New York Times office in Houston.
First things first: You mean he isn't based in Austin? I can't believe that someone from the Times would consent to work in Texas and not be based in the people's republic of Austin. Seriously. Well, I guess there are a few Austin-friendly neighborhoods in hip Houston.
This isn't a hard-news piece, but it contains some crucial information that news consumers on planet earth need to read in order to understand the elite cultural forces that shape our news. Let's start with this church of personal material by Fernandez right up top:
I was born and raised in Central California, and I moved to Houston from Brooklyn in June 2011 to cover Texas for The New York Times. I live here with my wife, my 7-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter, who keeps a pair of pink cowboy boots outside on the porch or inside by the front door. I have covered stories in the South, the Midwest and other parts of the country. People in those places identified with their political party, their job, their cause, their sexual orientation, their city, their race. Almost no one identified with their state the way Texans do.
Who are these people, these Texans?
Well, for starters, hit pause. Look at that list of life-shaping forces: That would be "political party," "job," "cause," "sexual orientation," "city," "race" and "state." OK, Texans, can I get a witness? What is missing from that list?
"Religion," of course. Maybe that's what the Times guy means when he says "cause"?
Bless his heart, Fernandez keeps trying to state his credentials.
I have met Texas Rangers who actually do seem larger than life and artists and writers who have taken the state’s entrepreneurial energies in entirely cool directions. I’ve met conspiracy theorists, Texas secessionists and Texas nationalists (there is a difference), as well as those in the parallel and wholly separate Texas made up of the uninsured, the undocumented, the imprisoned and the poor. Much of it is not my world, but despite that -- or perhaps because of it -- I think I’m becoming a little bit Texan. The historian T. R. Fehrenbach once wrote that Texas “shaped those who lived upon it more than they changed it.”
You don’t just move to Texas. It moves into you.
What is different now, he says, is that Texas has evolved into what he calls "ultra-Texas," which is essentially a Texas that -- post George W. Bush -- exists to oppose all that the Times considers right and just and good in this world. It is the Texas that exists to hate Barack Obama and his political kin. It's the Texas that exists to fight the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hit pause again. Think about that. What are the crucial issues with which the high court has messed with Texas? Let's see:
People throughout the state say they believe that their way of life is under assault and that they are making a kind of last stand by simply being Texan. It is this fear, anger and sometimes paranoia that lurks beneath the surface of Texas politics and that underlies the expansion of gun rights, the reflexive antagonism toward Washington, and the opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues that seems essential for succeeding in state politics these days.
Now let's see here. What would millions of Texans -- not all, but a large chunk of the state -- cite as one of the key elements of "their way of life"?
Can anyone think of a force in Texas, and lots of other places in America (including New York City, in my experience), that is missing from this view of my home state?
This isn't rocket science, folks.
Moving on. What about that tried-and-true anecdote in this piece about oilman Jack S. Blanton Sr., placing a baggie of Texas dirt under the hospital bassinet of his newborn granddaughter in Boston?
“It’s sort of like getting baptized,” said Mr. Blanton’s daughter, Elizabeth Blanton Wareing.
But that's it. There isn't a sentence, not even a phrase, in this piece about the role of religious faith in defining the sense of self that shapes many -- not all, but many -- Texans.
Yes, I know that there are lots of pick-up truck Texans who don't frequent church pews very much. There are also plenty of Texans who are members of a flock, but that fact doesn't shape their lives all that much. And then there are Texans -- millions of them -- whose views on life, family, good and evil starts with their faith. How can anyone live in Texas more than a week and not get that? You have to come to grips with the churches as well as the saloons, Times people.
Wasn't there anyone on the Times copy desk who knew anything about Texas or perhaps about red-zip-code America in general? Wasn't there anyone there who was wise enough -- as a form of constructive criticism, at the very least -- to realize that there are no church steeples in this famous New Yorker image? Did I miss something in this piece?
Just asking (as a prodigal Texan).