People Ditch Him All Over America, So Donald Trump Comes Here for Money

The late W.A. Criswell's career is not without relevance to Donald Trump's Dallas visit this week.EXPAND
The late W.A. Criswell's career is not without relevance to Donald Trump's Dallas visit this week.
Bushenell's W.A. Criswell by IslandsEnd via Wikipedia

Please note, dear Dallas, there is one place Donald Trump flies straight to with his coattails on fire when he needs an emergency injection of cash. Here. Yikes.

His political castle crumbling at his heels, Trump knew there was one spot in this whole nation he could always count on for quick money no matter what kind of pervert they were calling him everywhere else. Dallas. Oh, what a thing for us that is.

To be fair, the Dallas that Trump flew to this week was the Pete Sessions/Robert Jeffress part of Dallas, the right-wing wing-ding wing of the city, what I call our haunted house. Most of us don’t live there. Most of us live in the solidly blue part of Dallas that votes consistently for Obama in national elections and for Democrats, for better and for worse, at the local level.

But even for us Blue Dallas people, it’s worth pausing a bit to watch the broad white belly of the Trump plane settling down over Love Field like a half-starved dodo and wonder: Why here? How did we get elected?

It’s not accident, after all, that brings him here. The fact that Dallas and North Texas are a repository for right-wing no-matter-what money is a direct product of our history, and, maybe even more consequentially, it’s a reminder of certain social adjacencies. From Highland Park to our own City Hall is only three miles, and all of the wealthy anarcho-primitives who give money to Trump have their own drivers.

Back in the 1980s when I wrote a book about the history of Dallas politics, I tried to explain some of the far-side-of-the-moon phenomenon by delving into the years before the Civil War. In the period running up to the war, Texas was a kind of escape zone for slaveholders who thought Dixie was getting too liberal.

Amazing as that thought may be now, perhaps it’s a bridge too far at this point for explaining the Dallas Trump money. Suffice it to say that Texas in general and Dallas in particular were geographically and culturally separated from the main body of the nation until the 1970s — sort of like what a lunar colony might be today, no pun intended, much.

A far more useful examination than my own of the more recent history of Dallas wing-dingism is Edward H. Miller’s aptly titled book, Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, published this year by the University of Chicago Press. In addition to being a darned entertaining read, Nut Country is an authoritative account and analysis of Dallas as a sort of political portal by which the far side of the moon has been able to invade and infect mainstream politics in the nation.

The closest standard-bearer in time for the anarcho-primitive tradition in Dallas politics probably is H. Ross Perot, the Dallas billionaire who got Bill Clinton elected in 1992 by running for president as an independent nutcase. People elsewhere always had a hard time placing Perot politically because his messages always seemed to boil down to the same three things: 1) Everything is terrible. 2) The world’s turned upside down. 3) Make me president of the United States.

Sound familiar? 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s before the Kennedy assassination, Dallas was a stewpot of ultra-right-wing ferment. The leading vector in that political and social epidemic, Dallas Morning News Publisher Ted Dealey, even went to the White House once and wagged a finger at JFK, suggesting his leadership was failed and illegitimate, with the obvious implication that a better man for the job might be … well, Ted Dealey. That takes something, does it not?

In the time of Dealey, Dallas also was home to H.L. Hunt, maybe the richest man in the world at the time. In the 1950s Hunt was the proprietor of a couple of nationally broadcast radio shows, “Facts Forum” and “Life Line,” co-hosted by fellow wing-ding Dan Smoot, at a time when a nationally broadcast radio show was still a new and novel phenomenon, especially as the vehicle for a single personality and political voice. Except for Father Coughlin, the fascist radio priest in Detroit before World War II, the only other guy in the country who had his own national show like Hunt’s was the president. The real one. And it wasn’t on every week. 

Hunt preached a worldview that always seemed to boil down to the same three basic points: 1) Everything is terrible. 2) The world’s turned upside down. 3) Make me emperor. (You’re picking up on the thread here already, aren’t you?)

See, I think it’s a combination of the money and the isolation. I always figured there was a reason people should move to Connecticut or Long Island or Philadelphia or somewhere like that when they got too rich. You can call those places where they all live together snobby and exclusive and so on, but the places serve a purpose.

Sooner or later in a place like that, old H.L. is going to have to sit down and play cards with a table full of guys who are billionaires just like him, only they went to Harvard. Too much whiskey will be drunk. Inevitably one of the other old horned toads will say, “Ah, Hunt, you’re an ignorant bastard, aren’t you? Didn’t you even go to high school?”

Without that leveling influence, without that brusque encounter that maybe knocks a few of the corners off, these guys just sit in their throne rooms counting their treasure and getting crazier and crazier. Sound familiar?

H. Ross Perot's platform was that everything was all messed up and people should make him president. Sound familiar?
H. Ross Perot's platform was that everything was all messed up and people should make him president. Sound familiar?
Allan Warren via Wikipedia

The problem is that our local fabulous fools have proved extremely valuable to power-seekers back on Planet Reality, precisely because of their treasure rooms. In fact, that was the phenomenon that inspired me to write my own book in 1984: I witnessed the late W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of Dallas First Baptist Church — a segregationist so extreme he was denounced for it by Billy Graham — delivering the invocation at the 1984 Reagan re-election Republican Convention in Dallas.

It took me a while to believe what I was hearing. At that time, the older cities of the Midwest and Northeast were suffering in a stage of extreme economic decline. Dallas was booming.

With many sneering references to the decayed cities of the Rust Belt, Criswell posited Dallas as the shining city on the hill, mainly because it had never surrendered, he said, to the forces of moral depravity and anarchy that had brought the old cities to their knees. And, for that, you may read racial integration. God liked Dallas better, he said, because it wasn’t integrated.

The path to a brighter future, Criswell preached, was the path to the past. Dial it back. Take it down. Reel it in. Turn around, America. Your future is behind you.

Sound familiar?

The Reagan Republicans loved it, but you could have knocked me over with a feather, standing here with my notebook listening to that stuff. I was new in town. From Detroit. Imagine. I’m telling myself, “Oh, no, he didn’t just say that. I mean, he wasn’t serious.”

It had a profound effect on me. Basically, I sat down and wrote a whole book, which now in looking back I believe could have been expressed in a single line: “You don’t get to go backwards, Dumbass.”

But as Miller explains adroitly in Nut Country, you do. Sort of. He shows how the Republican Party had been slavering over that nut country money since the early '70s, thinking maybe it could go backward just a little bit. Just enough to rope in some of those racist white votes. Definitely enough to make those wonderful flights out to Dallas once in a while for those bags stuffed with millions of dollars in right-wing nutball money.

But they weren’t really racists, of course. Not in their hearts of hearts. Certainly they weren’t crazed antediluvian anarcho-primitives who wanted to do away with the entire American democratic system. They were just sort of pretending to be, while they were in Dallas.

You know, when I look at the uber-rich Trump supporters here who poured millions into his burning coffers this week or at the ordinary folks who throng his rallies nationwide, I sense this escalating fury on their part while they watch him go down, and I can almost sympathize. They are the perennial swindled girlfriends of American politics, are they not?

“Oh, no, Honey, you’re the one for me, you big old cowgirl, you. I’m leaving her. I can’t wait until I get that divorce back in Philly, and you and I are together at last. But about that little old loan.”

Comes a day when she knows it was a lie. I think that day is now. And Donald is the one who didn’t lie to her. Yet.

For all of that, the wonder of our city is that it has sailed its way into the future almost without reference to H.L. Hunt or W.A. Criswell, not to mention Donald Trump. We’re a solidly blue progressive city increasingly dominated by under-50s of diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt more optimistic about Dallas.

I’m just saying we’ve still got a big old haunted house on our borders. Trump shows up here at a time like this? There’s a reason, and it’s never far away. Excuse me now while I head out to Sprouts for some garlic to hang over my door.

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