Rural Texas is on the front lines of the GOP’s war for its identity
The question at hand in Texas is: What is conservatism? And the difference of opinion on what conservatism means today is as big as all hell and most of Texas.
Out in the countryside, which is most of Texas, where frugality and traditional values are integral to rural life, conservatism still means to conserve something. Namely, one’s place.
However, in Austin’s new political establishment, conservatism means to pursue the politics of freedom — school vouchers as “school choice” and appraisal caps as “property tax reform and relief” — even if policies risk the demise of places.
Rural folks certainly aren’t the only Texans concerned about escalating allegiance to ideology over place. But they are becoming the most vocal in asserting that to have freedom assumes one has a place in which to be free.
Thus the rural outcry in the last legislature: Subsidize the private education of affluent kids in faraway places? Allow Austin to lower property appraisal cap rates while we in rural Texas operate off reserves? Will politicians arguing for “free and fair” rollback elections publicly denounce outside interest groups when they interfere in these elections? Fix school finance, but don’t bankrupt the county!
This emerging identity crisis within Texan conservatism is best understood by the ongoing identity crisis in American conservatism.
Recently in the Wall Street Journal, Yoram Hazony delineated the national rift as a present-day ruckus between the conservatism of John Locke and Edmund Burke. Like Locke’s British rationalism, one camp of American conservatives seeks to apply universal theories of truth with certitude upon any and all human societies. Like Burke’s British empiricism, the other camp adheres to trial-and-error efforts, with respect to the tradition and history of a particular place.
Hazony’s detail of the abject policy failures of the neo-Lockean camp (a.k.a. conservative Never Trumpers) over the past two decades, from Iraq’s rejection of democracy to Wall Street’s 2008 implosion, helps explain that Donald Trump’s “rise is the effect, not the cause of this rift.”
Say what you will about Trump (and there’s an awful lot to say), his 2016 Republican primary victory demonstrated on which side of the rift a majority of GOP voters align.
R.R. Reno, editor of the right-leaning religious periodical First Things, observed that while the Republican field regurgitated politics of freedom, Trump appealed to senses of cultural and economic instability.
In a July 2016 piece titled “Rotting Flesh Reaganism,” Reno contended that promoting freedom against communist totalitarianism and a government-controlled, monopolistic economy was a necessary and noble project in the 1980s. Today, however, we’re no longer fighting Soviets or “suffering under suffocating collectivism and clotted, complacent capitalism.”
Disintegrating middle-class economic opportunity stems from being left behind by globalization, which “is the fruit of free trade and the free movement of capital promoted by America for more than a generation.”
Reno’s thesis: “The politics of freedom is losing its salience.”
Which brings us back to Lone Star State politics, where over the last two decades we’ve managed to go from a vote-your-district empiricism of former House Speaker Pete Laney to the west-Houston-knows-best rationalism of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Freedom Caucus.
Read more at Dallas Morning News: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2017/11/16/rural-texas-front-lines-gops-war-identity