God’s Casino: The Texas of George W. Bush

It is no longer possible to dismiss American religiosity as an odd residuum of hillbilly culture. It is now a vivid and organizing force in a mobile America defined by McMansions and office parks. Indeed, the alliance of advanced capitalism and religious fundamentalism is the most remarkable feature of the landscape of American power today. The superchurch and the televangelist are at least as integral to the current culture of American capitalism as Silicon Valley and Las Vegas. More clearly than ever, America has rejected the European understanding of Protestantism as the carrier of rationalization and secularization—as in Max Weber’s austere Calvinist capitalist. How are we to understand the transubstantiation of the flinty Yankee, once the incarnation of American capitalism, into the casino capitalist or the indebted but born-again shopper? The rise of the Sunbelt is of course a key component, but, within that larger transformation, the specific weight of Texas power is crucial.

The geographic axis of the transformation of American society is recognizable enough in the increasing political and economic clout of Sunbelt states, such as Florida and Texas, nicely encapsulated by the Bush family’s relocation from Connecticut and Wall Street to Midland, Houston, and Miami (home of Jeb Bush). The specific conjunction of oil and fundamentalist religion that has shaped Texas politics since the 1930s explains this familial migration. Oil brought the Bushes to Texas in the first place; the second generation has apparently taken the area’s religiosity to heart, providing the Republican Party with a symbolic accord between business and social conservatives. This is less a “Southern takeover” of American politics as described by Michael Lind than the result of a long-term convergence between Wall Street and the interests of Texas oil owners: not the revenge of the old plantation, but a new dynamic within American capitalism.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, and especially in the 1920s (the time of the Scopes trial), commentators such as H. L. Mencken saw the central conflict of U.S. politics as one between a backward agrarian South and scientific modernity. This is no longer so clearly the case. Modernization in Texas and the South is locked into an embrace with its old adversaries, fundamentalism and right-wing populism, that is perhaps unique in advanced capitalist economies. Even modernist anomie is included in the embrace. Divorce rates are currently falling across the United States, but remain significantly higher in the Bible Belt than in the Northeast, which has the lowest rates (Massachusetts the lowest among all fifty states). I remember being told in the late seventies or early eighties that the area of Dallas around Greenville Avenue, by then a sea of apartment complexes and singles bars, could boast the highest rate of divorce in the country. This plausible claim has the virtue of making sense of the ge...

Want to read our Spring issue for free? Sign up for our newsletter by March 31 to receive a full PDF when the issue launches.


The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.