God Save Texas is a love letter to a state and, after reading it, I briefly toyed with the notion of moving to Texas. Wright loves his state that much.
The story (it reads like a novel) begins at a gas station. A gas station that might “very well be the largest… with 120 fuel pumps, to complement the 83 toilets that on at least one occasion garnered the prize of Best Restroom in America.” That description –of a gas station no less—thrusts us into the bigness and complexity that is Texas. A state that is home to Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States, and a city devoid of zoning laws. The land of AM radio (conservative talk show) and FM radio (NPR) where the at least one denizen of AM Talk Radio country gave two liberal cyclists riding across Texas twenty bucks for children in Africa. A state that, when it was facing bankruptcy in the 1800s, decided it would rather become part of the United States than allow the United Kingdom to forgive its loans on the condition it renounce slavery. It is a state where “friendliness is a sort of mandate.” The state motto is Friendship. Highway signs enjoin you to Drive Friendly.”
Texas gave us Willie Nelson, Alex Jones and LBJ. Wright spends a bit of time describing the uncouth LBJ who gave us Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. LBJ, for all that he once held a staff meeting in his bedroom while getting an enema was a great liberal post-war president. By contrast, Kennedy (as Wright points out) for all his refinement, was the president who advocated the kinds of policies we would expect from a Texan. And yet, the Northeastern liberal establishment scorned LBJ, the uncouth liberal and adored the conservative Kennedy. Not a surprise. That same establishment still scorns Texas and Texans.
Wright bristles when he recounts how people who have never been to Texas recoil when he tells them he is a Texan, promptly “forgiving him” once they realize he resides in Austin. Austin, the place where “in the late 1950s, liberals had a foothold in the capitol and Austin was a highly sexed beatnik outpost (that hasn’t entirely changed)” is apparently an acceptable (to outsiders) place to live in a way that Texas as a whole is not. But Texas is far more complicated than outsiders think.
Yes, Texas is a red state, a state one of whose major industries is oil. It is also “the only state to have its own electrical grid, which was created largely to avoid federal regulations.” Even so, Texas gets 17 percent of its electricity from wind power. “Solar energy is also growing. Austin gets nearly a fourth of its power from renewable sources and aims to double that in ten years. Georgetown… one of the most conservative suburbs in the state, already gets all of its energy from renewable sources.” It is a state of braggadocio and literature, populism and liberalism, crazy politics and wonderful people.
There is a spirit to the place that Wright, who was born in Oklahoma, has made his own—as has the rest of his family. This is apparent in a small anecdote he tells midway through the book. He calls his daughter Caroline who “was living near a country-and-western bar [while finishing her MFA in Chicago] so she wouldn’t feel so far from home, but it wasn’t the same. ‘People here can’t dance,’ she complained. I mentioned that I’d just been to the capitol and visited the snake handlers. ‘Oh, I love Texas!’ she said with a lack of irony that is hard to convey.” What is it that Caroline and her father love so much? They love a “culture that is still raw, not fully formed, standing on the margins but growing in influence, dangerous and magnificent in its potential.” Lawrence Wright makes clear that, while other places and other cultures have beckoned to him more than once, there is (in the end) nowhere else he would rather be. Texas is his home. He loves it.