In 2020, the frontline in “the battle for the soul of America” was the election between Joe Biden, who spoke of that battle many times, and Donald Trump, who spoke about how it was all rigged.
Now, that battle seems best viewed through the prism of two big and powerful states: Texas and California.
On the surface, it looks like Texas is winning the battle. The 2020 Census shows its population grew enough for two additional congressional seats, while California lost a seat for the first time in, well, forever. But politically, California is solidly Democratic while Texas has been edging away from its Republican foundation, forcing the GOP to find other ways to manipulate politics to their advantage.
Consider this: Both Texas and California are majority-minority states, meaning non-Hispanic whites make up less than 50% of the state’s population, while non-whites are actually in the majority. And non-whites are most likely to go Democrat.
That means Texas may someday turn blue — there was a hint of that in 2020. But Texas Republicans still hold both state legislative chambers, and the governor’s office, so now they’re about to pass redistricting legislation that will water down Democratic strongholds.
It’s the new Republican strategy: Forget appealing to the majority, just keep enough of the non-whites away from the polls and even a lily-white GOP can maintain control.
Plus, Republicans must make sure the Electoral College remains intact so in our elections for president, the majority doesn’t necessarily win. Remember, they’ve pulled that off twice in the last 20 years (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in ’16).
California Democrats, by contrast, don’t need to stifle any votes because they command a decisive majority. But they do have a recall rule that allows some crazy, mixed-up gubernatorial contests and destabilizes the state’s highest position. But, hey, Arnold Schwarzenegger (their last GOP governor) was elected in 2003 from one of those crazy recalls, and I thought he turned out to be a decent governor; and this year, a terrible field of wannabes all sorely lost, so maybe those California recall elections aren’t as ridiculous as they look to us outsiders.
Moreover, we outsiders should pay attention to what’s going on in California and Texas because they are in a battle for supremacy in America’s political and culture war. And while Texas appears to be leading on the political front, California leads on the cultural front.
Hollywood still beats anything Texas has in the pop culture genre, although most would probably say Texas tops California in country and western music. On the other hand, California did produce the Bakersfield sound, and any kind of country music that can produce Merle Haggard has got to be good. So overall, I’d have to say California has the edge in the culture wars.
Here in New Mexico, we’re sorta caught in between these two supersized states. As another of our nation’s six minority-majority states, New Mexico is solidly Democratic, but not altogether. Eastern New Mexico is often called “little Texas” because the farmers, ranchers and oil patch roughnecks over there are staunch Republicans.
Meanwhile, Santa Fe and Taos are so liberal they make California look moderate. And, in addition to a vibrant film industry, New Mexicans tend to embrace the multicultural landscape that decorates our state — our state flag is evidence of that — and maybe that makes us a little more tolerant of differences even when we’re not fond of them.
Perhaps ironically, since oil and gas helped make Texas one of the richest states in the union, the state has become the biggest wind energy producer in the nation. California is ahead in its overall effort to convert from carbon-based energy sources to renewables, but with the dramatic spike in wildfires there, one must wonder if the advantages California has over Texas in pure natural resources is going, well, up in smoke.
So here we are, facing a showdown between California and its nearly 40 million residents — the most populated state in the union — with the world’s fifth largest economy (only behind the U.S., China, Japan and Germany), and Texas, the second most populated state with nearly 30 million people generating the ninth largest economy in the world.
Together, they contribute tremendously to what makes America great, but apart, they represent the divisions this troubled nation is now facing. Be that as they are, I’m glad I live in New Mexico. Seems that here, America’s soul still thrives.
Tom McDonald is founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange, which distributes this column statewide. He’s also editor and publisher of the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at email@example.com.