I’ll admit it’s poor form to vent one’s spleen all over the Facebook feeds of others. I’ve been doing it quite a lot recently and I’m not proud of it. So I’ll do my spleen venting here.
Last week, the battle over Texas textbooks shook out pretty much the way everyone who’s grown accustomed to the indoctrination methods of the christian right expected. Moses was a spiritual founding father (probably more important than that god-hater Jefferson), the slave trade was actually the Atlantic triangular trade, capitalism’s not capitalism but “free enterprise”… basically, the kind of shit Orwell would offer an acerbic chuckle at. And, also predictably, my social media feeds were littered with derisive comments from those outside of Texas. And why not? Making fun of Texas, and specifically Texas politics is fun. I sometimes wonder if some Lone Star politicians are in on the joke and merely bored and trolling for laughs. Yes, I’m talking about the living, breathing Warner Bros. cartoon that is Louie Gohmert. The comments that alarmed me were some that came from within the borders of this fucked up Republic, the ones essentially adopting a “who cares” mentality. I’m a native born Idahoan. I’m no stranger to residing in a place that provides the intellectual elite with a comfortable punchline, and I understand steeling yourself to adapt to the reality of living in a right wing playground, but apathy can be seductive and dangerous.
Right off, it’s important to attempt to contextualize rather than oversimplify. No, people in Texas aren’t insane. People in Beaumont aren’t even insane. They’re poor, scared and gullible to the point where they’d elect David Bradley, a real estate broker with no experience in education, who homeschooled his own children, to the state legislative body that oversees pubic education. Yes, that does sound crazy, but the reality is far more insidious. Bradley attempted (and failed) to get claims from the Heartland Institute refuting climate change published in one science textbook. As an insight into the Heartland Institute’s quest for science, Philip Morris hired them in the 90’s to publish a “policy study” questioning the link between secondhand smoke and health risks. And Bradley thinks critical thinking skills are “gobbledygook”. And he proposed an amendment to state social studies curriculum to always include Hussein in the president’s name. And he doesn’t have a firm grasp of what “conflict of interest” means. And he likes to bully women. What’s pathetic is that Bradley’s far from the only demagogue on this school board. Cynthia Dunbar has her own list of greatest hits, Don McLeroy likes to mansplain to the ladies about minorities, and Ken Mercer is my own personal bête noire. He’s a software engineer bankrolled by James Leininger to champion creationism and (again) discourage critical thinking, and because of the anti-democratic scourge of gerrymandering, this lying, lumbering fuckwit actually represents me. Before becoming a parent, that might not have had much of an impact on me. Now it fills me with revulsion.
That’s why I find those “it doesn’t affect my school district” quips from Austinites maddening. I’ll admit to a fair amount of indifference to politics when I was childless and living in Brooklyn, but this state is ground zero for a malady that infects the entire nation. Texas is such a large market for textbooks, its approved primary and secondary syllabi can influence the content of classroom materials throughout the entire country. School board elections, city council elections, and court appointments are where these battles start. It’s where batshit crazy politicians get their teabag sea legs. Again, see Louie Gohmert. The state voter turnout in this last election was deplorable, even with high profile races like Davis vs. Abbott and Van de Putte vs. Patrick, and the sad thing is, it shouldn’t be about the high profile races. It should be about getting to know your reactionary zealots before they make national headlines.
So dismissing the events of the past several weeks as being more “crazy Texas stuff” that ultimately affects only a few may help boost one’s feelings of superiority and serenity, but it’s those very attitudes that have contributed to keeping this ridiculous idealogical ping-pong match that we now call our government dysfunctional and corrupt.