high desert sketches
The past, the present, and maybe no future
By GEORGE A. COVINGTON
Few among us have not spent some time reflecting on the days when we were kids and the world was a slower, less hectic, and more understandable. Hundreds of novels have been written about the influences affecting a young persons early life. “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by James Joyce did not have as much impact on me as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The first novel was too far away and the second was too close to home.
In those by-gone days, a tattoo was worn by grown ups who had joined the navy and fought in World War II. Body piercings existed only among African tribesman depicted on the pages of the National Geographic. I learned at that early age that ghosts might walk on Halloween night but most ghosts walk the day of the Democratic Primary, which was the only election that mattered in East Texas. In those days of the early 1950s, you loved your country and flag and hated the Russian Communists who were trying to take over the world in the name of the godless Stalin.
East Texas bigots had only the African Americans to scorn and hate, of course they didn’t call them African Americans in those days. They were no Hispanic families in Texarkana, Texas, and those folks were seldom seen except in the back of pick-up trucks headed for Arkansas to pick crops. Any person with a foreign accent was considered such an exotic creature that they were treated with awe. Today the bigots can revel in their hatred because Hispanics have moved throughout East Texas, thus giving the morally challenged racist more to hate.
In those days the only addiction problem was cigarettes, booze, and fundamentalist religion. Needles were restricted to the dentist and doctor’s office. Even shrouded by the mist of time many people feel that the ‘good old days’ was a great time to be a kid. It was, if you were a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). I did not hear the term WASP until I left the pine forest for Austin and the University of Texas (UT). When I entered in the fall of 1964, the university had 24,001 students, and we all thought we were the one. When I left the university after Law School, the enrollment was 47,000 and there was no one. Between the beginning and the end of my college life, the world had changed dramatically.
Marijuana began to appear at UT my senior year in the School of Journalism and was commonplace by the end of my Law School days. The Vietnam War gave many young people a different perspective on their place in society and a new attitude toward their government.
Perhaps the most radical change was the Republican Party. In high school my conception of the Republican Party was an elite group of men who were educated at the best Ivy League schools, wore three-piece suits, came from old New England families, and were generally in some form of high finance. There were few, if any Republicans, in my hometown. Everybody was a Democrat, including all elected officials and members of the Ku Klux Klan (including my step-father). Even the ghost that voted on Primary Day was a Democrat. So of course, I became a Young Republican (YR). My attitudes and the image of the Republican Party began to change in 1964 with the enactment of the first Civil Rights Act. Suddenly, the bigots and the pragmatic politicians began to see the line between the two parties blur and viewed the Democratic Party as a slowly sinking ship.
Today, the lines have begun to blur again. Bigotry was once based solely on race or class. Bigotry today is based on fear of anything that is not us. Who would have dreamed that the country would elect a delusional, shallow, ranting, self-promoter who brags on television about grabbing women by their most private parts, and takes criticism like any other 15-year-old (this is a form of “alternative praise”). I must admit that it does take some kind of talent to alienate every ally we have had in the last 50 years with only a few telephone calls. As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changing,” maybe a little too much for the rational mind, but then when has “rational” played any major part in politics.
George A. Covington has worked in the fields of law, education, journalism and disability rights. He considers himself retired from every one of them with the possible exception of journalism. He is a graduate of the University of Texas schools of journalism and law. He moved to West Texas – Alpine – in 1997 after a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. where he once served on the staff of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat) and shortly thereafter served as Special Assistant to the Vice President of the United States (Republican) 1989-93.
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