When I try to imagine how people in the rest of the developed world see the United States, I think of Texas. Here in the States, we like to see Texas as politically conservative, religiously conservative, racist, unhealthily devoted to oil and red meat, polluted, and culturally unsophisticated. We see Texas as a former slave state built on land stolen from darker-skinned people. Sound familiar?
Influence: Texas is big, wealthy, and politically powerful. It's influence on national politics can't be ignored or avoided by more progressive states. Ditto the US, such as our bullying embargo of Cuba.
Health Care: When Norway lucked into huge oil revenues, they channeled the wealth into giving everyone good health care. When Texas lucked into huge oil revenues, they didn't. The US as a whole, for its part, is extraordinary for its resistance to universal health care.
Evolution: Evolution is uncontroversial in Europe but bitterly disputed in the US. US science textbooks are shy about mentioning evolution even though it's a core theory in biology. Why? Because textbooks that tout evolution don't sell in Texas, and Texas is a big enough market that textbook publishers pander to it.
Oil: The US is willing to fight bloody wars, decimate civilian populations, cozy up to corrupt dictators, and even make ourselves the target of terrorist attacks in order to keep slurping up oil. A major contingent of the pro-oil force is from Texas, including our current president. (Bush is president in the same sense that O.J. is not guilty.)
Religion: The Christian Right controls the GOP party apparatus in Texas (as well as some other states). The 2002 GOP platform in Texas calls for "reaffirming" that the US is a Christian nation, keeping sodomy a criminal offense, teaching Creationism in schools, putting the Ten Commandments up in courthouses, etc. The Christian Right also jerks around US foreign policy, making us, for example, withhold funds from organizations that provide family planning services and putting us side-by-side with repressive and theocratic regimes in opposing progressive global action. Is it a coincidence that Andrea Yates is a Texan?
Capital Punishment: Texas is devoted to the death penalty to the point of executing criminals who were minors when they committed their crimes. The US is committed to the death penalty even though it fouls our ability to work with the justice administrations of other countries.
Environment: As governor or Texas, Bush enacted voluntary regulations on polluters, with predicatble results. As president, he pulled us out of the Kyoto protocol, and wants us to think of global warming as "climate change."
Race: Texas is home to the small town of Tulia, where the police arrested 10% of the town's black population, convicting these victims of selling drugs solely on the false testimony of one racist, white cop. Racism is a defining feature of the US heritage.
Capitalism: Texas is home to Enron and George W. Bush, the crony capitalist who has never submitted a resume or went through a formal job interview. The US pushes the "virtues" of the global marketplace on less powerful, less wealthy countries. Meanwhile, it subsidizes its farmers, creates a global glut of food, and drives farmers in poor countries out of business.
It's the Texishness of the US that tempers my pride in being an American.
January 03: A writer in the Economist said that Texas is like America on steroids, that it's an exaggerated version of the nation as a whole.
July 03: The imprisoned folks from Tulia have been released, thanks to a judge's review of the cases.