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God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State Kindle Edition
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
An NPR Best Book of the Year
God Save Texas is a journey through the most controversial state in America. It is a red state, but the cities are blue and among the most diverse in the nation. Oil is still king, but Texas now leads California in technology exports. Low taxes and minimal regulation have produced extraordinary growth, but also striking income disparities. Texas looks a lot like the America that Donald Trump wants to create.
Bringing together the historical and the contemporary, the political and the personal, Texas native Lawrence Wright gives us a colorful, wide-ranging portrait of a state that not only reflects our country as it is, but as it may become—and shows how the battle for Texas’s soul encompasses us all.
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Praise for God Save Texas
"Superb . . . [Wright's] most personal work yet, an elegant mixture of autobiography and long-form journalism, remarkably free of elitist bias on the one hand, and pithy guidebook pronouncements on the other." —David Oshinsky, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
“A love letter to a place . . . Wright writes about Texas with the fervor, knowledge, and ambivalence that comes from deep-seated familiarity.” —Willard Spiegelman, The Wall Street Journal
“After tackling 9/11 and Scientology, journalist Lawrence Wright wrangles his toughest subject yet: home, the Lone Star State. With a balance of deep reporting and memoir, the New Yorker staff writer offers a personal history of Texas, a place both singular and the bellwether of American politics and morality. It’s a different approach, and one that Wright nails.” —GQ
“Rings true on every page.” —Michael Barnes, austin360
"Essential reading not just for Texans, but for anyone who wants to understand how one state changed the trajectory of the country . . . Wright is one of the most talented journalists Texas has ever produced, and God Save Texas is him at his best. It's a thoughtful, beautifully written book." —Michael Schaub, NPR
“Compelling . . . timely . . . There is a sleeping giant in Texas, and Wright captures the frustration and the hope that reverberate across the state each time it stirs.” —Cecile Richards, The Washington Post
“Terrific . . . all-encompassing . . . [fueled] with literary tension . . . Wright’s words could speak for both Texas and America.” —Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News
“Gripping . . . Whether you love Texas or hate Texas, you will likely find God Save Texas a very funny and a very informative book about a place unlike any other on the face of the earth.” —Jonah Raskin, New York Journal of Books
“The most entertaining and edifying nonfiction book I’ve read so far this year . . . There’s a jaw-dropping portrait on the shocking shenanigans of the Texas legislature; hymns to the natural beauty in the state’s far-flung nooks and crannies, and a spot-on analysis of Texas’s boom and bust economy. . . .[Wright] is a rare beast: an elegant writer and a fearless reporter, with a sense of humor as dry as the plains of west Texas.” —Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times
“Thoroughly explore[s] the political past, present and future of the Lone Star State.” —Ryan Bort, Rolling Stone
"There is a noticeable and refreshing lack of defensiveness in Wright's journey through Texas . . . Quirky anecdotes, philosophical musings on culture, and hyperlocal travel writing abound." —Elizabeth Catte, Boston Review
“A godsend . . . Thorough and concise . . . A brilliant analysis.” —Marion Winik, Newsday
“Vivid . . . Omnivorous . . . Affectionate and genial . . . Captures the full range of Texas in all its shame and glory . . . An illuminating primer for outsiders who may not live there but have a surfeit of opinions about those who do . . . [It’s] a testament to Wright’s formidable storytelling skills that a reader will encounter plenty of information without ever feeling lost.” —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“If you listen to one audiobook this year, make it this one . . . Wright’s gentle Texas accent infuses his tale of the Lone Star State with humor and depth.” —Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
"Wright focueses his razor-sharp lens inward and on his home state, [interjecting] personal anecdotes to enliven the facts and figures." —Michelle Newby, Lone Star Literary Life
“A campfire stew of memoir, reportage and historical digression. Wright is a typically Texas storyteller, an anecdotalist who wanders around and stops occasionally to point out the view, but somehow you end up getting where you’re going anyway. . . . Pleasing.” —Benjamin Markovits, The Guardian
“A deeply personal narrative . . . Informative and entertaining . . . Having been born and raised in Texas, I found myself not only intrigued with revisiting the depth of history of my home state as told by Wright, but also with the insights God Save Texas afforded me on my current home here in West Virginia.” —Michael Amason, Herald-Dispatch
"Splendid . . . A critical, affectionate account of modern Texas, matched only by Larry McMurtry's great essay Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen." —Allen Lane, The Spectator
“Wright tames his sprawling subject matter with concise sentences and laser-precise word choice . . . Gives readers a front-row seat to the battle within the Texas GOP between business-oriented conservatives, led by House Speaker Joe Straus, and the social-conservative wing headed up by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.” —Chris Gray, Houston Chronicle
“A fascinating look ahead through the lens of a singular state . . . Filled with larger-than-life Texas characters . . . For every Texas stereotype Wright explores, there’s something that blows it up.” —Colette Bancroft, The Tampa Bay Times
“Exhilarating . . . Wright has outdone himself in his latest literary effort.” —Dr. Manuel Flores, Caller Times (Texana Reads)
“The book’s 14 chapters dance between meditations on cities, culture, and politics, and all of them dive into what it means to be a Texan.” —Olivia Messer, The Daily Beast
“Wright’s affectionate, eye-opening, and, at times, rueful love letter to his native state . . . This is Texas in all its fascinating outrageousness.” —Kevin O’Kelly, The Christian Science Monitor
“Amid the state legislature’s fights over bathroom bills, feral hog abatement programs, and a bill allowing the hunting of wild pigs from hot air balloons, the reader comes away with an idea that the state is a place of competing melodies: a bit of Austin country, a few measures of Roy Orbison, a riff from Buddy Holley and, for Wright, maybe a stanza of ‘Home on the Range.’” —David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
“[A] compelling and insightful potpourri of history, encounters, and observations . . . Wright has managed to sew together a patchwork quilt of a narrative into a substantive State of the state.” —Bob Ruggiero, Houston Press
“Wright, a lifelong Texan, knows his way around the state’s contradictions, from its wild borderlands to its craziest legislators. His Lone Star biography is important, timely, and most important, riveting.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture.com
“An affecting memoir . . . Studded with . . . gems from the annals of Texas history.” —Steven G. Kellman, The Texas Observer
“Takes readers on a trek through Texas from the dawn of the Republic to the 2016 election, and Texas space, from Houston to Marfa, Dallas to El Paso. Along the way, God Save Texas maps both the light and dark soul of the state . . . Organized by themes and geography, Wright drills deep into Texas politics, arts, culture, big cities, border, and energy. Wright’s often-humorous voice becomes a trusted guide when discovering Texas’s lost stories as well as confronting painful tragedies.” —Tarra Gaines, Arts and Culture Texas
“The grand scale of Texas, and the sheer range of its places and people—Houston to El Paso, the Panhandle to the Valley—is inevitably compelling to any writer, and Wright is happy just trying to get his arms around it all.” —Michael King, Austin Chronicle
“Masterful . . . An impressive ode to the Lone Star State . . . In a balanced tone, this narrative examines Texas’s historical, political, and social fabric that make the present tapestry, revealing a portrait of one of the most perplexing American states.” —Jacob Sherman, Library Journal (starred review)
“This thoughtful, engrossing, and often-amusing survey is a kind of ‘waltz through Texas.’ . . . It is a state whose history, politics and culture Wright finds endearing, repelling, and puzzling, all dependent upon which aspect he is exploring and describing . . . An important book about a state and people who will continue to have a large impact on the U.S.” —Jay Freeman, Booklist (starred review)
“An unflinching look at Texas—the state where Wright has spent most of his life—in all its grandeur and contradictions. . . . Wright’s large-scale portrait, which reveals how Texas is only growing in influence, is comprehensive, insightful, and compulsively entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of the state’s most renowned writers takes readers deep into the heart of Texas. As a staffer for The New Yorker and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Wright has illuminated a variety of intriguing subcultures. His native Texas is as exotic as any of them. He approaches his subject on a number of levels: as a stereotype, a movie myth, a cultural melting pot, a borderland, a harbinger of what is to come in an increasingly polarized and conservative country, and as a crucible that has shaped the character of a young writer who couldn't wait to escape but was drawn back . . . A revelation.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Charms, Such as They Are
Subtle was the word my friend Steve used as we drovethrough a spongy drizzle from Austin to San Antonio ona mild February morning. He was referencing the qualityof the pleasures one might experience from observing the Texaslandscape—small ones, requiring discernment—although theactual vista in front of us was an unending strip mall hugging acrowded interstate highway. Subtlety is a quality rarely invokedfor anything to do with Texas, so I chewed on that notion fora bit.
There are some landscapes that are perfect for walking, disclosing themselves so intimately that one must dawdle to takethem in; some that are best appreciated in an automobile at areasonable rate of speed; and others that should be flown over asrapidly as possible. Much of Texas I place in this last category.Even Steve admits that Texas is where “everything peters out”—the South, the Great Plains, Mexico, the Mountain West—alldribbling to an anticlimactic end, stripped of whatever glory theymanifest elsewhere. But in the heart of Texas there is anotherlandscape that responds best to the cyclist, who lumbers alongat roughly the rate of a cantering horse, past the wildflowers and mockingbird trills of the Hill Country. Our bikes were in the back of my truck. We were going to explore the five Spanish missions along the San Antonio River, which have recently been named a World Heritage Site.
Steve is Stephen Harrigan, my closest friend for many years, a distinguished novelist who is now writing a history of Texas. We stopped at a Buc-ee’s outside New Braunfels to pick up some Gatorade for the ride. It is the largest convenience store in the world—a category of achievement that only Texas would aspire to. It might very well be the largest gas station as well, with 120 fuel pumps, to complement the 83 toilets that on at least one occasion garnered the prize of Best Restroom in America. The billboards say The Top Two Reasons to Stop at Buc-ee’s: Number 1 and Number 2, and also Restrooms You Have to Pee to Believe.
But gas and urination are not the distinguishing attractions at Buc-ee’s. Texas is—or at least the kind of material goods that reify Texas in the minds of much of the world: massive belt buckles, barbecue, country music, Kevlar snake boots, rope signs (a length of rope twisted into a word—e.g., “Howdy”—and pasted over a painting of a Texas flag), holsters (although no actual guns), T-shirts (Have a Willie Nice Day), bumper stickers (Don’t Mess with Texas), anything shaped like the state, and books of the sort classified as Texana. There is usually a stack of Steve’s bestselling novel The Gates of the Alamo as well.
One image on the T-shirts and bumper stickers and whiskey jiggers has become especially popular lately: that of a black cannon over the legend Come and Take It. The taunt has a long history, going back to the Battle of Thermopylae, when Leonidas I, king of Sparta, responded to the demand of the Persian leader, Xerxes, that the Greeks lay down their arms. In Texas, the reference is to a battle in 1835, the opening skirmish of the Texas Revolution, when Mexican forces marched on the South Texas outpost of Gonzales to repossess a small bronze cannon that had been lent to the town for defense against Indians. The defiant citizens raised a crude flag, made from a wedding dress, that has now become an emblem of the gun rights movement. Ted Cruz wore a “Come and Take It” lapel pin on the floor of the U.S. Senate when he filibustered the health care bill in 2013.
At Buc-ee’s, an aspiring Texan can get fully outfitted not only with the clothing but also with the cultural and philosophical stances that embody the Texas stereotypes—cowboy individualism, a kind of wary friendliness, superpatriotism combined with defiance of all government authority, a hair-trigger sense of grievance, nostalgia for an ersatz past that is largely an artifact of Hollywood—a lowbrow society, in other words, that finds its fullest expression in a truck stop on the interstate.
I’ve lived in Texas most of my life, and I’ve come to appreciate what the state symbolizes, both to people who live here and to those who view it from afar. Texans see themselves as confident, hardworking, and neurosis-free—a distillation of the best qualities of America. Outsiders view Texas as the national id, a place where rambunctious and disavowed impulses run wild. Texans, they believe, mindlessly celebrate individualism, and view government as a kind of kryptonite that saps the entrepreneurial muscles. We’re reputed to be braggarts; careless with money and our personal lives; a little gullible but dangerous if crossed; insecure but obsessed with power and prestige. Indeed, it’s an irony that the figure who most embodies the values people associate with the state is a narcissistic Manhattan billionaire now sitting in the Oval Office.
Obviously, those same qualities also have wide appeal. Texas has been growing at a stupefying rate for decades. The only state with more residents is California, but the number of Texans is projected to double by 2050, to 54.4 million, almost as manypeople as California and New York combined. Three Texascities—Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio—are already amongthe top ten most populous cities in the United States. The eleventh largest is Austin, the capital, where Steve and I live. Forthe past five years it has been one of the fastest-growing largecities in America, the metropolitan area surpassing two millionpeople, dwarfing the little college town Steve and I fell for manyyears ago.
There’s an element of performance involved with being“Texan.” The boots, the pickup trucks, the guns, the attitude—they’re all part of the stereotype, but they’re also a masquerade.Stylistic choices such as the way Texans dress or the vehiclesthey choose to drive enforce a sense of identity, but they also addto the alienation that non-Texans often feel about the state.
Riding on top of the old stereotypes are new ones—hipsters,computer gurus, musicians, video-game tycoons, and a widening artistic class that has reshaped the state’s image and the waywe think of ourselves. That Texas can’t be captured on a coffeemug or a bumper sticker. “I’m the least Texas person I know,”Steve once observed. I’ve never seen him in cowboy regalia, oreven a pair of jeans. He hasn’t owned a pair of boots since he wassix years old. In college, he took horseback riding as a physicaleducation requirement and got an F. He contends that must havebeen a clerical error, but the last time he was on a horse he felloff and broke his arm.
Neither Steve nor I could have lasted in Texas if it were thesame place we grew up in, but we’re so powerfully imprinted bythe culture it’s impossible to shake it off. Still, both of us haveconsidered leaving and often wondered why we stayed. Manytimes I’ve considered moving to New York, where most of mycolleagues live, or Washington, which is Lotus Land for political journalists. I’ve never felt at home in either spot. Washington is a one-industry town, and although writers have influence, they are basically in the grandstands watching the action. New York intellectuals sometimes put me off, with their liberal certitudes, their ready judgment of anyone who differs with them. The city is a pulsing hive of righteous indignation. In any case, I think I’m too much of a rustic to survive there. Once, when I was walking up Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, I saw a nicely dressed older man standing in the street beside the curb. He was turning around in small, distracted circles. All my prejudices against the city came up: here was a man in need, but people were walking by, evidently uncaring. In Texas, we wouldn’t let a confused old man place himself in danger. I approached him as any gallant Texan would and said, “Sir, are you okay?”
He looked at me in puzzlement. “I’m waiting for a cab,” he said.
Writers have been sizing up Texas from its earliest days, usually harshly. Frederick Law Olmsted, a journalist before he became the designer of New York’s Central Park, rode through in 1854. “Horses and wives were of as little account as umbrellas in more advanced states,” he noted. In 1939, Edna Ferber arrived on a prospecting trip that led to her novel Giant. That book, finally published in 1952, was a sensation. It popularized the image of Texas millionaires as greedy but colorful provincials, whose fortunes were built largely on luck rather than hard work or intelligence. That there was truth in this summation was part of the sting. When the New Yorker writer John Bainbridge passed through the state in 1961, gathering material for his book The Super-Americans, he found Texans still reeling from what he called ednaferberism. “Few documents since the Emancipation Proclamation have stirred as much commotion,” Bainbridge observed; however, he also noticed that the movie had just come out, and it was booked on nearly every screen in the state. In the movie version, Rock Hudson plays the cattle rancher with a spread the size of several states; James Dean is the roughneck, who rises from nothing to build a stupendous fortune; and Elizabeth Taylor is the civilizing Easterner, who acknowledges the exploitation of the Mexicans who do all the labor but fail to reap the profits. It’s been three quarters of a century since Giant first appeared on bookshelves, but the archetypes that Ferber codified still color the perceptions of Texans by both outsiders and Texans themselves.
Bainbridge observed that the condescension of non-Texans toward the state echoes the traditional Old World stance toward the New. “The faults of Texas, as they are recorded by most visitors, are scarcely unfamiliar, for they are the same ones that Europeans have been taxing us with for some three hundred years: boastfulness, cultural underdevelopment, materialism, and all the rest,” Bainbridge wrote. He diagnosed the popular disdain for Texas as a combination of “hostility born of envy” and “resentment born of nostalgia.” He added: “Texas is a mirror in which Americans see themselves reflected, not life-sized but, as in a distorting mirror, bigger than life. They are not pleased by the image.”
When Bainbridge visited, Texas was in the backseat of the national consciousness, a marginal influence despite its swelling oil wealth and sui generis political culture. By the time Gail Collins, The New York Times’s op-ed columnist, arrived to research her 2012 manifesto, As Texas Goes . . . How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, the accumulation of economic and political power meant that Texas now had a hand on the steering wheel. Alarm had set in. “Texas runs everything,” Collins wrote, expressing a typical liberal complaint. “Why, then, is it so cranky?”
Steve and I have talked over the question of whether Texas is responsible for fomenting the darker political culture that has crept over our country, which is the charge that outsiders like Collins often make, citing as evidence Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, George W. Bush and Iraq, Tom DeLay and redistricting, Ted Cruz and the Tea Party—an impressive bill of particulars that has contributed to the national malaise. Steve takes the position that Texas is simply a part of the mainstream. Its influence may seem disproportionate, but it’s a huge state and it reflects trends that are under way all across the country. “If you visualize America as a sailing ship, Texas is like the hold,” he says. “When the cargo shifts, it’s bound to affect the trajectory of the vessel.”
I’m less forgiving. I think Texas has nurtured an immature political culture that has done terrible damage to the state and to the nation. Because Texas is a part of almost everything in modern America—the South, the West, the Plains, Hispanic and immigrant communities, the border, the divide between the rural areas and the cities—what happens here tends to disproportionately affect the rest of the nation. Illinois and New Jersey may be more corrupt, Kansas and Louisiana more dysfunctional, but they don’t bear the responsibility of being the future. --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B072KBWPYN
- Publisher : Vintage (April 17, 2018)
- Publication date : April 17, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 20488 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 344 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #375,493 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Other than my dad’s attempt to move us to Florida when I was four (we moved back to Texas in eight months), and my year of teaching in Oklahoma, I’ve lived in Texas my whole life. My roots are deep here--there are two streets in Fort Worth named after my great-grandfather, whose father farmed the banks of the Trinity River. I’ve lived in East Texas, South Texas, North Texas, West Texas and the panhandle. I’m thoroughly Texan. In college, I was on the rodeo team—the Tarleton Texans. I mix Spanish with English, wear boots without irony, and know the price of cotton and cattle. I even--I hate to admit--have an armadillo tattoo (the official small mammal of Texas), a remnant of my Tarleton Texan days. Still, the question above is a tough one.
In his book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” Lawrence Wright attempts to answer that question and others.
I read this book with more interest than I have any other in a long while. That’s partly because the material is familiar to me—the author writes about places I’ve visited, lived, and loved. But it’s also because of the author’s style. He is a remarkable writer who can really spin a yarn (Texan for “tell a story”) with vivid detail and subtle humor.
One of Wright’s main subjects is the political culture of Texas, how it began, how it evolved, and why it matters, not just to Texas, but to the whole country. In short:
“The political story in Texas both reflects and influences the national scene.”
Wright misrepresents nothing; Texas is exactly as he describes it. And he has the necessary background to get it right—he was born and raised in Texas and knows many of his subjects personally—George and Laura Bush among many others.
In the early part of the book, Wright describes three levels of culture: level one—the most basic and authentic level. The early German settlers in the Texas hill country built their homes from limestone because limestone is what was available. Level two culture is the least authentic, when a place adopts a foreign culture to become more sophisticated. Northeastern high rises in Austin, Texas, for instance. And level three—an informed return to the original culture: “Returning to one’s roots with knowledge, self-confidence, and occasionally, forgiveness…Level Three requires shaking off the mythic illusions and telling new stories about who we really are.”
These levels of culture are also stages that we pass through in life; maybe the author hints at that. His discussion of Level Three reflects his own position in writing this book. He isn’t blindly patriotic about his native state, but he’s not ashamed of it, either. Rather, he sees it accurately—the good and the bad, appreciates it for what it is, and helps readers do the same.
In one particularly pitiful chapter, the author describes the terrors of Hurricane Harvey, which he blames on global warming, which was, of course, the Republicans’ fault, but into which he declares himself forced to drive to work on a play that wasn’t going to open—for reasons obvious to everyone but him (aren’t Pulitzer Prize winners supposed to be smarter than that?).
One might continue reading, as I did, hoping against hope for some semblance of sanity, or at least some recognition of reality. One can perceive humor, but it’s invariably unintended. In the final analysis, the last page arrives as an immense relief.
Wright's written a rather idiosyncratic view of Texas. Less a history than assorted chapters about what has made Texas, Texas, Wright's book talks about history, politics, society, and that spirit that leaves much of the rest of the United States saying, "huh", when we hear about something outlandish that makes the news. Wright attempts to explain the vagaries of the Texas political structure, which has flipped almost completely from Democratic to Republican in the past 30 years. He also writes about the music scene and Texans timeless endearment of firearms. His book is also a love letter to the city of Austin and it's "Keep Austin Weird" vibe. But in all his writing, I couldn't detect much, if any nastiness about his subject. That's not saying Lawrence Wright is not critical about his beloved state, but what is said critically is said with a love the reader can't miss. Sort of like a parent writing about a much-loved, if slightly exasperating, child.
It took me a while to read "God Save Texas". I began it on Tuesday when it was released and just finished it. It was a book that I savored. It was like the fact that I have liked every Texan I've ever met in the flesh, as opposed to who - and what - I see in the news. It's not difficult to dislike Texas and its people if you don't know any Texans or you haven't read a book like Lawrence Wright's.
Top reviews from other countries
Combining personal reminiscences and facts, the book commences with a potted history of the state that was under the thumb of several nations before joining as the 28th state of the union in 1845. It then built its wealth with cattle, cotton and oil, with technology now adding to its economic growth. The book continues its journey with passages on oil wells, US Presidents, big cities and small towns, Mexico and border problems, culture, changes in political party support and the Texas legislature (with a rather ponderous look at the controversial “Bathroom Bill” that defined access to public toilets by transgender individuals). And, scattered throughout, small anecdotal items.
Written informally with a storyteller’s touch, “God Save America” reveals the State’s ever growing importance within the United States. It also adds considerably to knowledge already gathered for those, like myself, who have spent time working there.
It is by turns anecdotal, analytical, critical and affectionate; generally good humoured, he nevertheless doesn`t shy away from exposing some of the damaging extremes of the politics, economic disparity and aspects of Texas lifestyles such as gun culture.
It is also very informative in that he touches on diverse themes like music, food, literature, cinema and cultural stereotypes.
The Texan model – as opposed to the Californian model - is suggested as the current trend in the social/economic direction the USA as a whole may well take, though it`s fascinating to note that Texas may be on the verge of turning into a “blue” (Democrat) state in the future, as opposed to the “Red” state it has been for decades.
It`s a relatively easy and enjoyable book to read, though a little understanding of the American political system is helpful. The narrative charting the passage of the “Bathroom Bill” as it was debated in the state Capitol is almost like a black-humoured pantomime; a rather petty, pedantic and unnecessary piece of legislation, this contentious bill was the subject of hours of debate, while vastly more important problems such as that of education funding remained unresolved; it highlights the fault-lines that exist in the Texan Republican party between economic Conservatives and cultural Conservatives.
A balanced, thoughtful and entertaining portrait of this enormous and influential state and a considered projection of it`s relevance in the future of the USA.