When I was a kid, and my grandma would tell me the story of the Battle of the Alamo, she tended to exaggerate the final acts of Col. James “Jim” Bowie. As Santa Anna and the greatest army ever assembled broke through the gallant Texians’ final fort defense, the Texian republicans fought to the very last—this much we know to be true. But according to my grandma, as Bowie lay dying on a cot, he threw his famous knife into the chest of the first Mexican who found him, striking the man dead in an instant.
Now that’s a pretty tall tale. (In fact, Bowie died of a fever in his sick bed, and may not have fired a shot throughout the entire ordeal.) But it’s nowhere near as tall as those being spun in the Lone Star State today. As Texas faces what some there deem the greatest threats yet to its viability—plurality, expanded access to affordable health care, Eric Holder—its laureates are spinning out a new genre of fable: the Texas secession fantasy novel. Three of the latest feature plot twists that would make my grandma blush. Mostly self-published or issued by small local presses, these novels run long on bull shit—from dried-up cow patty–grade bullshit, like the endless spelling and punctuation errors that pockmark two of these books, to the fresh-squeezed Texas Longhorn bull shit that is the ending of the third one. While Obamacare more or less inspires secession throughout, each novel winds a different road to freedom. Common to all of them, though, is a recipe for privileged grudge politics as old as a bowl of Texas red.
It will come as no surprise to true Texans that the star of the most ominous of these Texas secession fantasy novels—The Yellow Rose of Texas by Dennis Snyder, book one in the Struggle for Sovereignty series—is none other than Col. James Bowie (a few generations removed). Fictional Col. Bowie’s relationship to his ostensible ancestor is never explained. Coincidence? Clone? “He was willing to die protecting the Republic of Texas,” Snyder writes, in the way of introducing his field marshal, who digs trenches to prepare for war with the United States in the 21st century. “Even if it meant emptying his gun into anyone who would burst through the door just like the original Jim Bowie had done at the Alamo.” (A variation on the bedtime story I know.)
Before we arrive at secession—which comes by Page 23 of Yellow Rose, fast as a turn in Texas weather—it’s worth thinking through why a bid for secession must come to trench warfare at all. Why not just let Texas go? Writing in 2009, on the occasion of real-world talk from Texas about secession, Matthew Yglesias outlined the argument for parting ways: “The core elements of an amicable divorce would, I think, be Texas membership in NAFTA and NATO so as to ensure that disruption is minimized and nobody is threatening anyone else.” Those aren’t even passing concerns in the new Texas fanfic, except for the threatening-anyone-else bit (there is a lot of threatening-anyone-else). Yglesias continues, “Texas would need to assume responsibility for a portion of the U.S. national debt that’s proportionate to its share of the population,” describing financial details shrugged off by the authors of Yellow Rose, The Secession of Texas, and the grimmest of the three, Lone Star Daybreak. What’s in revolutionary Texans’ wallets? The same dollar found on the other side of the border with the United States.
Not that a dollar could get you half a Whataburger Jr. in Yellow Rose—not once President Nicholas Watson, Obama’s successor, cedes the nation’s military might to the United Nations while racking up a $22 trillion national debt. The president’s shenanigans begin at his swearing-in; asked by John Roberts to repeat the solemn presidential oath, Watson swears instead to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, as I understand it.”
Constitutionally empowered by a gotcha, the president goes on to eliminate tax breaks for churches and successfully prosecutes the war against Christmas. He strips the citizenship of all 125,000 people who signed the White House’s “We the People” petition supporting the secession of Texas. “I have so many plans and changes to put into effect now that we have all three branches under Democratic control,” President Watson tells America, presumably over steepled fingers.
Much of the novel’s drama focuses on the plight of Southern sympathizers trying to make their way to Texas. It’s never clear why the story’s Texas-bound Carolinians don’t support secession for, say, a Carolina. Or why so many likeminded conservative whites don’t form, I don’t know, some kind of club for southern secessionist states. Snyder’s Texas isn’t very Texan: no conjunto music or Lockhart smokehouses, no dynastic San Antonio Spurs, no mesquite and no mesas. As it turns out, Snyder might not know one damn thing about Texas: The author is a pastor based in Michigan. He would be better off taking up a Great Lakes State cause. Isn’t Detroit more or less free of intrusive government at this point? What about that little part of Michigan—aren’t they tired of Wisconsin wearing them like a hat?
With The Secession of Texas by Darrell Maloney, the reader is at least safe in the hands of a San Antonio author, but it’s a cold comfort. Maloney ups Yglesias’s let-’em-go train of thought. By a popular referendum attended by some 80 percent of eligible state voters, Maloney’s Texas secedes on April 1, 2013. Night hasn’t fallen on April Fool’s Day before newly minted Texas Secretary of State Mario Ramirez is on cable news discussing details of the transition team established by the (U.S.) House of Representatives and State Department.
And that’s that: no fuss and no muss. After successfully seceding, Texas President Rick Perry embarks on an economic goodwill tour, which takes up the rest of the book. From Corpus Christi to Lubbock, he gives town-hall speeches concerned mostly with relating the successes of the new national economy. President Perry transitions well from cutting hypothetical federal departments (commerce, education, what was the third one?) to adding them.
The Secession is worth reading for the golf scenes, with President Obama whistling low as President Perry banks a shot off a tree. And there’s a lot of science fiction—with the Perry administration geo-engineering a vast casino-resort strip off the Gulf Coast, and building an elevated, over-water, high-speed rail line direct to the French Quarter in New Orleans. These initiatives cost scratch money after Texan scientists discover an oil well capable of producing 80 billion barrels of oil–a find so great that Perry even kicks around the idea of an Alaska-style (i.e., socialist) permanent dividend fund.
But any reader who is not Rick Perry will find this book drier than San Angelo sand. There’s an assassination attempt, sure, but it’s over in three pages. That plot isn’t the work of President Obama—who is limited in this novel to authorizing the Keystone pipeline (which benefits only the nations of Canada and Texas). The Dallas Cowboys even strike a deal to continue playing in the NFC East. The Secession is a tale of hope and change, told speech by droning speech—a story fit for a teleprompter.
Skeptics of Yglesias’ peaceful transition will prefer Lone Star Daybreak by Erik L. Larson. In this novel, there’s much more at stake than Yellow Rose’s social agitas or The Secession’s Perry party. By this book’s version of 2012, the euro is done for, Mexico is more cartel than state, and al-Qaida is back and bigger than ever. Accordingly, and well before the voters of Texas approve a secession charter (which happens by Page 123, quite late as these books go), the state pre-emptively acquires a military.
One reason that Texas secession is so appealing as political alt-history to Michigan pastors is that Texas offers such a stark relief to the blue states and their enclaves of power. Rural expanse vs. urban density, freedom vs. nanny statism, bolo ties vs. silk cravats. But if it’s under-regulation and vast stretches of nada that you crave, you can do still better than Texas—perhaps that’s why so much of Larson’s book takes place in Siberia. Early into Lone Star Daybreak, Texas cabalists trek to the Kremlin and back, spending billions of unaccounted-for dollars on more than 1,000 Russian aircraft. Boatloads (literal boatloads, they arrive by boat) of SU-37s, SU-30s, and SU-34s; several hundred MiG-29 “X” fighters; a few dozen crucial Backfire bombers. The Texas Defense Force recruits teens from places like Allentown, Pa., then ships them off for pilot training somewhere between Novosibirsk and the Bering Strait. Definitely what those Texan founding fathers had in mind. Pomnitye Alamo!
No one bats an eye when Texas nationalists start building brick-and-mortar recruiting stations in Ohio (not even Ohioans). During one West Wing briefing, National Security Council brass—a truly clueless bunch of Aggies—explain how ultra-large carriers manage to unload tanks at ports all along the Texas Gulf Coast by simply flouting a standard customs procedure. Helicopters arrive in Texas by hugging the Rockies, exploiting a radar blind spot. All the while, the feds are oblivious: no drones, no NSA wiretaps, no embargo.
When push comes to shove (and in this telling, Texas draws first blood), the U.S. performs admirably enough. “Operation Gulf Shield” is an early success. In fact, the States are only thwarted when Texas unleashes a chemical nerve agent outside of Galveston. (To be fair, Galveston is already pretty gross.)
Ultimately, U.S. forces are demoralized after Texas deploys the nuclear option—the literal nuclear option—in high altitude over Fort Pulaski National Monument off the Georgia coast. Spoiler alert: Total war is averted in the end, because U.S. President Wilton is assassinated by the underage intern with whom he has been having an affair.
Only Vladimir Putin will like the novel well enough to get to the penultimate scene, in which Texas calls off a nuclear strike on Times Square, with jets making a pass around the new Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan. At Lonestar Daybreak’s end, Texas doesn’t much resemble that friendly state that Bowie died (of the flu) defending. The teen Pennsylvania pilot has no choice but to fly Russo-Texan fighter jets after recruiters blackmail her with the promise of health care for her cancer-stricken mother. (Mom dies anyway.) In the darkest scene of a novel that shows Texans committing war crimes, an Ohio man shoots dead a young black man as he pulls a cellphone from his pocket during a riot.
Of course, this is appalling. It is also an aggrieved white male fantasy that is increasingly out of touch with reality. What Larson and the authors of Yellow Rose and The Secession never grapple with is the fact that this Texas they are willing to die for—or pine for, in the case of confederate-carpetbaggers from Michigan—this Texas is already slipping away from them. Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis’s Mizuno Women’s Wave Rider 16 trainers aren’t exactly the Bowie knife, but she has nevertheless managed to strike a dagger into Texas politics. Today she leads an actually-persecuted, freedom-loving caste of Texans. Texans who stand unified against a black-hatted villain in Gov. Rick Perry. Texans who face long odds. (Looong odds.)
But that’s how the classic stories of Texas revolution go. And if demographics mean destiny, then the Texas revolution is already in progress. I can’t wait to tell my grandkids the tale.
The Yellow Rose of Texas by Dennis Snyder. Concerned Life Publishing.
The Secession of Texas by Darrell Maloney. Self-published.
Lone Star Daybreak by Erik L. Larson. Tate Publishing.