What do other countries think of Texas?

Fort Worth is the most typical city in Texas. It is still shaped by its past as a cattle transshipment point and gateway to the Wild West. If you want to understand its mentality, you have to go to the rodeo.

When a snow storm hit Texas in mid-February, residents had to stay in their houses for days without heating or water and burn their furniture to avoid freezing to death, many Americans scoffed at the helplessness of the rich and often self-important state. "You have no shovels," joked Trevor Noah on his late night show. "They grab their AR-15, shoot every snowflake before it lands, and scream: Go back to Canada, where you belong!"

The deeply entrenched cowboy code

"The Texans see themselves as a distillate of the best American qualities: friendly, confident, hardworking, patriotic, non-neurotic," writes Lawrence Wright, himself a Texan and one of the region's best experts, in the essay "America’s Future Is Texas". “Outsiders, on the other hand, see us as the id of the nation in the Freudian sense, where wild and elsewhere denied impulses run amok. Texans, one thinks, celebrate a maddened individualism and see the state merely as a poison that weakens the entrepreneurial muscles. " Wright writes of the "cowboy code" that is deeply anchored in every Texan: "We have this daring cowboy way, this Western style of dealing with things."

No other Texas city embodies this mentality as much as Fort Worth, which has the head of the longhorn cattle in its coat of arms. It was founded in 1849 as a military post. The settlement later developed into one of the largest cattle trading centers in the USA - and the “Paris of the prairie”. After the cowboys had sold their animals and had money in their pockets, they wanted to have fun before heading back to the Wild West. Hell’s Half Acre entertainment district was famous throughout America for its saloons, gambling dens and brothels. Fights, shootings, robberies and alcohol poisoning were the order of the day. Today the "water gardens" by the architect Philip Johnson are located there, while the bars, steak restaurants and country music clubs can be found in the Stockyards, the former cattle trading center.

Only really at home on the ranch

Conservative Texas is often contrasted with liberal California; Depending on the political orientation, one member state is played off against the other and the rivalry is stylized into a cultural war. On the occasion of the onset of winter in Texas with its catastrophic consequences, the rhetoric also escalated once again. For the Democrats, the power grid collapse was a cautionary example of where the radical privatization and would-be self-sufficiency of the energy sector could lead. For the Republicans, on the other hand, the disaster was a result of the reckless adoption of the "green Californian model," that is, wind turbines and other alternative energies.

Someone who can make a good judgment of this is Michael Drivdahl, public relations officer for the Forth Worth Fire Department. He comes from California, but moved to “Cowtown”, as Fort Worth is also known, with his Texas wife.

Forth Worth is perhaps the most Texan city, he says. In contrast to Dallas or Houston, the place is still shaped by the long-time residents. “There are still a lot of people here who live in town but go out to their ranch on weekends,” he says. Only there did they really feel at home. "This is where history is honored, and an important part of it is the centuries-old rodeo." The firefighters and police officers who are on duty there also wear cowboy hats and boots, he says, to pay their respects to the riders.

No more electricity for the oxygen machine

"The glittering Dallas stands for the new money, Fort Worth for the old money, for the cattle trade and railroad," explains Drivdahl. "It's not as hectic here as in Dallas, here you take it slowly." Americans often speak of DFW, or “Dallas-Fort Worth” because of the shared airport, but a real local would never name the two cities in the same breath.

He recalls how the Fort Worth economy went downhill in the 1980s. People emigrated, the fire brigade was in constant use because desperate, indebted residents set fire to their houses to collect insurance money. "Once it burned three times in the same street in a single night."

In the meantime the wind has turned. Texas is growing tremendously. If this continues, the state will have 54 million people by 2050, as many as California and New York combined. This also applies to Fort Worth. "Every twenty minutes someone moves here," says Drivdahl. That has to do with the - in contrast to California - low taxes and jobs. Numerous large companies have moved to Texas in recent years, including many from California. The area no longer suffers from anemia, says Drivdahl, but from growing pains.

Of course, the Arctic slump in February exposed weaknesses in the system, he admits. It was shocking, for example, to take an emergency call from an old man who was dependent on his oxygen machine when the power suddenly went out. Some parents even burned their children's toys to heat the room. Some passed out because they hadn't used a fireplace for years and had therefore clogged a fire. But Drivdahl thinks that the allegations should not be exaggerated. «You have to find a middle ground. More preparedness is needed for emergencies; but one cannot waste millions on a case that - like a pandemic - occurs once in a hundred years. "

Authentic or staged?

There are several rodeos in Fort Worth these days. The semi-finals of the American Rodeo will take place in the Cowtown Coliseum, and the Patriot Fort Worth in the Will Rogers Memorial Center - not far from the Cowgirl Museum. The multi-day Patriot event is more interesting because it's not so much an outsider show, but more of an insider's get-together. It is teeming with stalls where the cowboys with saddles, hats, boots, hooves, lassos, TX (a “whiskey for the western way of life”), cowgirl magic (hand cream), chewing tobacco, grooming brushes, grooming preparations for horses , Special food and veterinary products. Even a «gun massage» is offered.

The event will be broadcast on Cowboy Channel, a cable broadcaster with 42 million subscribers that mainly reports on rodeos and everything else that cowboys are interested in. In the magazine “Cowboy Lifestyle” there are several pages with gift suggestions, for example: grill with built-in smoking device, cool box Yeti, Martin guitar (“1930-style”), off-road vehicle Intimidator (“500 kg payload”), Walter pistol ( “High-class performance”), Honda generator, pocket knife (“patriotic Kirinit trapper”) or pliers wrench (“with laser-heat-treated teeth”). Nobody wears a mask here; if you do it anyway, like the writer, you will feel how he is viewed by the bystanders as a wimp.

Later that evening, the rodeo in the Stockyards opens with the singing of the national anthem and a prayer. It consists of several disciplines: riding a wild horse without a saddle, jumping from a running horse onto a running calf and wrestling it, catching a calf with the lasso in pairs, throwing the lasso around the neck of a calf from the horse, jumping off and the Tie the calf's legs together as quickly as possible. The last part belongs to the cowgirls. They too have to catch a calf, but can then let go of the lasso. Then they have to ride around three oil barrels as quickly as possible without knocking them over. The final is contested by three death-defying bull riders.

While Patriot Fort Worth is obviously an event run by cowboys for cowboys, the American Rodeo is more complex. Many of the spectators came from other states. Whether someone is wearing a mask is a pretty clear indication of whether they're a country insider or an urban outsider. The Stockyards look like the backdrop for a western. There are saloons with double doors, just like in the old movies. On an outdoor stage, a girl sings songs by Johnny Cash - a country singing competition. You can buy tractors next door. People meet in a bar to throw an ax, and a portrait of John Wayne is emblazoned on a wall. A mix of high noon and olma. Are the die-hard men with the spurs real, or are they putting on a show? You know this phenomenon from places like Appenzell, where you also ask yourself whether the mixture of hostility towards the state, conservatism and yodelling is a staging for tourists or an expression of a culture that is still alive. The strange answer is probably in both Texas and Appenzell: both.

The cowboys and the republicans

Rick Barnes is the President of the Republicans of Tarrant County. The day before, Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, lifted the mask requirement, which caused a majority of American commentators to shake their heads. Barnes thinks it's a good decision. “Bans only lead to people thinking about how to avoid them without risking a penalty,” he says. "It is better if you do something of your own free will, but out of conviction."

Last fall he posted: "Either you are for Trump or against America." Now he's become more meek. Trump's role in the storming of the Capitol? "We have to look forward." Should Trump run again in 2024? "Four years is a long time." He thinks the Black Lives Matter protests were legitimate. And immigration is basically positive. But he prefers to talk about traditions, for example the value of the family. "I was adopted, I know what family means." For him, the low taxes in Texas are fundamental: "Whenever possible, you shouldn't give up the decision on what to do with your life and money."

Here in Fort Worth, he says, the Wild West began. “The cowboy worldview is still there: family, patriotism, individualism, freedom, courage and hard work. You help each other, but not with feeding, but with a job. " And then he sums it up: “Do you know why there is hardly any other region in the USA that is as deep red as the rural areas here? The values ​​of the cowboys are exactly the values ​​of the Republicans. "