It’s hard for me to pick a favorite spot in Fort Worth. I dig every nook and cranny of The Modern. I like the Water Gardens. I love the four leaning, tornado-twisted steel girders at the Museum Place Post Office. But perhaps the spot dearest to my heart is sitting next to Mark Twain in Trinity Park.
He sits in bronzed repose on a park bench on the westerly side of the Trinity River, thumbing through a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Why he’s depicted reading his own book, I don’t know. It’s probably just an over-conspicuous hint for scantily literate folks who pass by. Regardless, what I cherish about Twain’s presence at this specific geographic location is the simple irony of it.
Early in 1873, the New York Tribune asked Mark Twain what he thought about the annexation of Hawaii. In the January 9 edition, Twain wrote “We must annex these people,” sarcastically noting that we can give them “juries comprised of idiots,” introduce corporations that will “buy their legislatures like old clothes” and furnish them with Capitalists “who will do away with their old-time notions that stealing is not respectable.”
Hawaii didn’t get annexed for another eighty-six years, but Twain’s satirical commentary was spot on then and is still spot on today..
Ill-informed by perfidious cable news channels and talk-radio cranks, we have become a nation of morons that is hardly capably of sober jurisprudence and increasingly undeserving of democracy. Corporations openly buy and sell our political representatives and unabashedly manipulate them through expensive political groupies (better known as lobbyists). And Capitalists—well, they obviously care more about making money than anything else, “dishonestly if they can and honestly if they must” (as Twain himself noted in the “The Revised Catechism”).
The Golden Rule is no longer “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s Do unto others before they do unto you or Do unto others in ways that will benefit you. Ethics are for suckers and morals are for the poor (or what we refer to in the 21st century as the Middle Class).
Twain saw all this 138 years ago and wasn’t shy about calling folks out. And that’s why it’s ironic that he sits where he sits in Trinity Park.
You see, the east side of the Trinity River where Twain sits is the south-westernmost edge of the 76102 zip code; the 76102 zip code of downtown Fort Worth leads the entire nation in political contributions made by the oil and gas industry. There are a staggering 43,000 zip codes in the United States, and our bronzed Twain sits facing the boundary of one of the zip codes that most profoundly evidences the type of ridiculous status quo that he sarcastically insisted we should impose on the Hawaiians.
The oil and gas outfits in the 76102 have spent millions on local and national political hides and that’s why they get away with transforming kitchen sinks into flamethrowers, polluting our water supplies, fouling the air we breathe and “fracking” the ground beneath us so much that it’s actually causing minor earthquakes and tremors.
We have no idea or understanding of what the long-term effects of environmental and seismic onslaughts of this magnitude will lead to, but the short-term economic benefits of the local natural gas boom keep us agreeable to being done unto and dumb to the possible catastrophic future repercussions. In matters regarding the Barnett Shale, our politicians take care of their corporate patrons and we’re little more than collateral victims in a dangerous experiment in old-time Capitalism.
Twain would have viewed the oil and gas industries the same way he viewed the railroad corporations in the last part of the 19th century: treacherous, short-sighted miscreants who have no qualms about ignoring, going around or running over a community or its watchful citizens if they get between them and higher profit margins. And that’s what’s happened to us; we’ve been done unto in underhanded, cold-blooded ways that most of us don’t even begin to understand.
That’s why a seat next to Twain is my favorite spot in Fort Worth. Even though his mustachioed headpiece is made of hollow bronze, he’s still got more sense than too many of us.