Heading to Kerrville for a COVID-delayed 90th birthday celebration of my one and only’s father, I was looking forward to wildflowers dotting the fields and hilly scenic vistas. What I found instead was different and disturbing.
In Hico, we came to our usual pitstop at a combination gas station/convenience store, thinking nothing seemed out of the ordinary, at least at first. Then I noticed we were one of the few people still wearing masks. No biggie, I thought. That’s their choice. Then I decided if I was to survive this trip, I needed more coffee and quick, so I grabbed some deep and dark roasted java and filed in line. It was there I first noticed it. If looks could kill, I would have been a dead man laid out on that stain-spotted floor, my coffee leaking out of the ill-fitting top like black blood.
I was getting nasty looks from the throng of unmasked customers and from the equally unmasked counter help. I wanted to explain I was from Fort Worth where most people, the week before Memorial Day, still wore masks inside, but why bother? Filled with disinformation, they weren’t in the listening mood. When I paid the man, it was my first visit there when I didn’t hear a “thank you,” “have a nice day,” or even a “dirty, rotten pedophile-loving Demoncrat” in return.
I consulted my girlfriend and her son if I was off-base with feeling like I was being singled out. They confirmed they felt the same. OK, now I know. In rural Texas, masks are evil. And those who wear them are the enemy, virtue-signaling elites and not real Americans.
On our trek, the surprises didn’t end there. The rest of the day, going south through Hamilton, Lampasas, and Burnett, just about every small town we passed had Trump signs or flags in evidence. In my six decades of life, I’ve never seen a losing presidential candidate’s signs still up after six months, let alone so many.
We were driving deep through the heart of Trump Country. In 2020, 45 won Hamilton County with 83.1% to Biden’s 14.7%. In Lampasas County, he won 77.8% of the vote to the former vice president’s 20.6%. In relatively “liberal” Burnett County, Trump’s percentage was down to 76%, and Biden secured, in comparison, a hefty 22.8%.
Since they seem to love him so much, I wondered, what did Trump ever do for these people? His biggest accomplishment was a “yuge” tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthy. I’m sure some wealthy folks live out there who hang on 45’s every word, but I saw plenty of Trump signs and flags at modest homes. Maybe Trump Country’s residents love how the twice-impeached former-reality TV star “owns the libs,” but those are slim pickings for people who have largely been shut out of recent economic growth.
And did Trump politicizing mask-wearing and totally botching the country’s response to COVID-19 counter-intuitively make rural Texans’ lives better? I doubt it. The medical journal The Lancet found that nearly 40% of around a half-million COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. during the Trump administration were avoidable. Some of those fatalities surely came from these very towns, I imagine.
Another sickness not carried by a virus is now shaping our political lives, the slip-sliding away of our democracy. At its core, that is what Jan. 6 was about. Never in my life did I think that a president would try to foment a coup and that his party would then defend him afterward, but that’s where we are. The majority of Republicans believe the Big Lie that somehow a candidate who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million in 2016 and never reached above 50% in approval rating actually won in 2020.
Republican-controlled legislatures are now making it possible for their states to overturn the will of the people. As it was said by Jacob Grumbach, a political scientist from the University of Washington, our nation’s GOP-controlled states are “laboratories of democratic backsliding.” They are, as The New York Times’ Thomas B. Edsall has written, “determined to enforce white political dominance.”
Look at the news from that weekend. On the Friday we arrived in Kerrville, local authorities with the help of the FBI foiled a white supremacist’s plot to shoot up a Walmart. In Dallas, Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, and was promptly pardoned by 45, spoke at a gathering of conspiracy theorists and endorsed a Myanmar-type military coup here. And Sunday night, Democratic legislators in Texas walked out to prevent the passing of one of the most restrictive voting bills in the country.
It doesn’t take much to see that our very democracy is at an inflection point. On the way back to Fort Worth Sunday, we twice had to dodge turtles crossing the road. We did it and managed to not injure any reptiles or ourselves in our quick maneuverings. I can’t vouch if those migratory creatures made it to the other side of the road alive. Just like I can’t vouch for American democracy remaining.
This editorial reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. The Weekly welcomes all manner of political submissions. They will be edited for clarity and factuality. Please email Editor Anthony Mariani at email@example.com.