As it’s the Christmas season, it’s only fitting that someone win a major award. This year, one such award went to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in the form of Texas Monthly’s “Bum Steer of the Year,” an “annual roundup of Texas’s most ridiculous and idiotic endeavors, featuring political personalities, flashy figures, and plenty of nameless ne’er-do-wells.”
In explaining its decision, the magazine wrote:
At the end of the horror movie The Shining, Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer turned homicidal maniac, freezes to death, lost in a swanky hotel’s hedge maze in the midst of a 1970s winter. For the final shot, the camera pushes in to reveal a detail from a vintage photo on the wall of the hotel ballroom: a dapper Jack pictured in a temporally impossible 1921. The building has absorbed him.
That’s roughly how Greg Abbott came to live in the Governor’s Mansion in 2015: it absorbed him.
The piece goes on for a lot of words following that intro and is accompanied by a graphic depicting Abbott as Jack Torrance, although he’s freezing while also being engulfed by flames. In other words, it’s not exactly an even-handed look at his record.
Among his purported sins, we find charges that he was to blame for the blackouts that roiled Texas last winter. (Not even close.) The magazine also alleges he didn’t lock down hard enough in response to COVID. (Ignore Michigan’s experience here.) Then there’s the fact that he banned vaccine mandates. (Texas Monthly must be mad that he follows the science.)
Rounding out the complaints that won Abbott this honor is that he supports “voter suppression” (known as integrity in the sane parts of the world) and wants transgender youth to commit suicide “in order to obtain a four-hour break from criticism in conservative activist Facebook groups.” (Yeah, that’s totally it.)
In winning this year’s Bum Steer for those “transgressions,” Abbott, along with runner-up Ted Cruz, joins previous winners such as the Texas Democratic Party, Robert Francis O’Rourke, and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez, among others. Besides his political party, the main thing separating Abbott from them is that he can actually win contests other than Bum Steer of the Year, which is probably the thing that bothers the publication the most.
Texas Monthly was once a proud magazine, if not one geared toward actual Texans. It was the Texas version of The New Yorker, another formerly proud publication, which bills itself as “The National Magazine of Texas.” Ten years ago, it had 80 employees. Today, it’s a shell of its former self, best known for bleeding out talented staff and for being purchased by oil and gas heiress Randa Duncan Williams. Maybe the new owner can prove to be as successful as Lauren Powell Jobs has been with The Atlantic.
Given that both publications appeal to similar audiences, it’s only natural that they experience similar trajectories. For with Texas Monthly, remember the “national magazine” portion of its tagline. Texas Monthly is not for ordinary Texans but for a small slice of wealthy white liberals in a few Texas cities, and most of all for readers on the coasts, to prove to them that Texas is an okay place after all, at least among a certain kind of Texan.
That’s why Texas Monthly is a talent pipeline for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. While its writers are happy to pretend to be interested in Texas, they are much more interested in leaving Austin for New York so they can work for one of those publications. This is also the one major reasons it is so consistently wrong about anything having to do with Texas politics and culture: to the limited extent the writers understand Texas, they hate it.
If you doubt that, note that a friend in Texas informs me that the magazine’s annual BBQ awards eschewed tradition this year, in a state known for its brisket, in favor of New Age BBQ startups. It takes a special sort of talent to screw up BBQ rankings in Texas, unless your human talent loathes where they live and work.
In other words, winning “Bum Steer of the Year” from such a bum steer of a magazine is something Abbott can and should celebrate. If it comes with an actual award, even if it’s not a leg lamp characterized by its fragility, he should definitely display it in the front window of the governor’s mansion. For unlike several recent recipients, and the magazine itself, Abbott’s selection proves that he’s doing what the electorate wants, even if it’s not ridiculous or flashy enough for the out-of-touch ne’er-do-wells who should have considered looking into the mirror before deciding upon this year’s winner.
So, congratulations, governor, but be delicate in your celebration. The egos at Texas Monthly are probably even more fragile than that lamp.