“Why are you going to Texas?” The question came at me from nearly every quarter when I announced my intention to spend a few days visiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Austin perhaps would be understandable. After all, Austin seems to be populated largely by liberal west coast expats. But Dallas? Dallas is “real” Texas.

To be honest, I completely understand the sentiment. While Florida is the butt of many a joke from liberal strongholds like my home of California, Texas is something different. To many of us (I am proudly liberal; the values of the left are those that resonate with my sense of morality), Texas is akin to the Empire in Star Wars, a behemoth of evil, seeking nothing less than enslavement of those in their way. Hyperbole aside, my views of Texas are similar to my views of Russia or China, regimes that also suppress the values I hold dear.

For so many like me, the Texas flag stands for hatred and intolerance

2021 has been an especially difficult year, and one that makes reconciling a trip to Texas even harder. The so-called Texas Heartbeat Act, effectively outlawing abortion after six weeks – before many women would even be aware of their pregnancies – has taken effect, and courts don’t seem to be in the mood to protect the bodily autonomy of women. Executive orders from Governor Greg Abbott have banned mask mandates in the public sector, and vaccine mandates even in the private sector, effectively prolonging the current Covid pandemic and politicizing basic public safety. Add to this a rampant gun culture and basic misogyny that seems to be prevalent in much of the South, as well as a prevalence for restricting voting of minorities and celebrating the values of the Confederacy, and it is clear that Texas and Jonathan are at odds on the overwhelming majority of issues.

And yet…

The sky is blue, reflecting on the cascading fountains of Fort Worth’s Water Gardens, an urban park made up of three stunningly beautiful pools set in a forest of concrete adjacent to the city’s downtown convention center. Locals are eating lunch overlooking the water, a few business meetings are taking place as suited groups wander together aimlessly, and visitors avail themselves of an innovative mid-city oasis. These don’t seem like evil people, and the thought of where I am in a political sense fades from my mind. Beauty is ubiquitous, and the values that lead to the construction of a place like this can’t be totally out of whack with my own. There are no guns present, no Confederate flags or juvenile “Let’s Go Brandon” banners. These are normal people living normal lives, here for an escape from city life for a moment of zen, as am I.

The Fort Worth Water Gardens

I get a similar feeling at the Dallas Arboretum, a lovely series of sculpted gardens set alongside White Rock Lake. I cross babbling brooks and wander past fields of bright flowers, passing children playing with their parents and marveling at the objectively beautiful holiday (read: Christmas) displays. Sure, there is nothing that would give any clue that non-Christians like me also have holidays to celebrate, but the smiles of the kids excuse that for the most part. Surely these aren’t people who would see me as a Jew stripped of my rights, right?

The Dallas Arboretum

Texas isn’t a monolith politically. Here in Dallas County, 65% of voters cast their ballots for Joe Biden in 2020, and in Fort Worth’s Tarrant County, Trump won by a single point. So perhaps those enjoying a beautiful day outdoors with me have more in common with my California sensibilities than one would be led to believe by the concept of Texas.

I snack on a fantastic brisket taco in downtown Dallas’ Chimalma Taco Bar and watch the people go by. Texas and I are still at odds, in a major way. The morals espoused by the elected leadership here are those I find repugnant. But the people here in Dallas-Fort Worth are, I am forced to admit, largely nice, and largely normal. There are good people here, people who value those things I do. Heck, there are Teslas here, albeit fewer than at home in Los Angeles.

Brisket tacos

Part of travel is opening oneself to things that are different, to ways of life outside one’s comfort zone. I am against the overwhelming majority of the politics of China, and yet I have visited both Beijing and Hong Kong (before the violent suppression of freedoms currently happening, which might make me rethink such a trip today). I am likewise against the vast majority of political stances taken by Texas and its despicable leadership. But I am not against the normal decent people of Texas, just as I am not against those in China who yearn for something better. Coming here is a reminder that people can be good despite having terrible leadership.

Texas and I are not going to be friends, not with the current state of local politics. But even a California liberal can find common ground with some of the people and values here, and I’d hope Texans would feel the same if visiting my home. And if my coming is the start of a small bridge in a bitterly divided world, so much the better.

Thank you to Visit Dallas for hosting my trip to the Dallas Arboretum.

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