Q: I was born and raised in West Texas but have lived in the Northeast now for close to forty years. Over that time, my politics have shifted from right of center to left of center. I consider West Texas my home and enjoy occasional trips back for high school reunions and such, but due to the political winds blowing in such a different direction from where I live now, I’ve had second thoughts about returning. I am concerned that some of my friends, especially when lubricated with libations, might want to talk politics and I’d rather not. How can I most skillfully enjoy a visit with childhood and school friends without engaging on the subject?
Name Withheld, Boston, Massachusetts
A: Time was, you likely recall, when Texas was a very different place than it is today, politically speaking. The Democratic Party once dominated here, but the last time more Texans voted for a Democratic presidential candidate than a Republican one was in 1976, when the Texanist was a ten-year-old and you were about to depart for northeastern climes. In the most recent presidential election, Texas voted Republican over Democrat by a near-double-digit margin. Only 27 out of a possible 254 counties voted for Hillary Clinton. West Texas, your old home—not counting the anomalous Trans-Pecos region—is known to be particularly Republican. Roberts County, way up at the tip-top of the Panhandle, is even said to be the most pro–Donald Trump county in the country. More than 95 percent of Roberts County supported him in 2016. Clinton got a mere twenty votes there. And the last time a Democrat won a statewide office was in 1994, before the Texanist had a gray hair on his head, constituting a lengthier shutout than that possessed by any state in the Union. The political winds in Texas are indeed blowing quite red these days.
The winds in your current home blow solidly blue. Massachusetts went with Clinton over Trump 60 percent to 33 percent. Every county on the Baked Bean State map, all fourteen of them, voted Democrat. (Wait, Massachusetts only has fourteen counties? The Texanist did not know that.)
All of that said, while the Texanist does currently occupy the same nicely carpeted office once occupied by the great Paul Burka, he is neither the Dean of the Capitol Press Corps nor the Poohbah of Political Punditry that his esteemed former colleague was known to be. So, it’s good that you’ve sought out the Texanist simply wanting to know how to navigate social functions that are peopled with folks of disparate political leanings and not for a lesson in political science.
Mixed gatherings of the sort you expect to encounter during your upcoming West Texas homecoming (and you absolutely should attend) are not unusual; they happen all the time. Such affairs, where there is a chance of conflicting winds colliding, can be somewhat fraught, but they do not, in the Texanist’s experience, commonly end with fisticuffs. Lately, though, the country has become increasingly polarized and increasingly intolerant of those holding opposing political views. Social media, where people have forgotten how to behave, and the nonstop news cycle, where outlets seem to have forgotten about impartiality, are to blame. But so too are many of our politicians, who seem to have forgotten about statesmanship. The result has been reflected more and more in the public discourse, which has itself become more and more rancorous and more and more akin to the sweaty, red-faced, finger-pointing, spittle-spewing interview segments of World Class Championship Wrestling.
But even considering the unfortunate current state of affairs and the fact that you will very likely be the liberal Yankee blueberry in the conservative West Texas tomato soup, to borrow a metaphor from former Guv Rick Perry, who was fond of describing his former home of Austin that way, it’s unlikely that any violence will ensue.
The long-held rules of party etiquette deem conversation on the topics of religion, sexuality, and politics to be off limits and are generally adhered to pretty well. But if any of these subjects do come up and you’d rather not engage, simply steer the talk in another direction. Good diversionary themes include the weather (so long as you avoid talk of climate science), grandchildren (so long as you avoid talk of education policy), gardening (so long as you avoid talk of the Environmental Protection Agency), barbecue (so long as you avoid talk of sauce), and the beauty of West Texas sunsets (an inarguable truth).
At the end of the day, we’re all Texans (even Texans who happen to currently reside in the Northeast), and we all hail from the place whose official motto is “Friendship.” As long as that mantle is lived up to, no matter the winds that fill your sails, we’ll all be better off. The Texanist foresees your visit with old West Texas friends going smoothly. But even if they don’t, and an angry party guest does go all George “The Animal” Steele on you, resist the urge to unleash your inner Stone Cold Steve “The Texas Rattlesnake” Austin and offer your retort by way of a face rake, a piledriver, and a stepover armlock camel clutch. No matter how lubricated with libations you may be.
Have fun, Mr. or Mrs. Name Withheld, and thanks for the letter.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.