Second cartoon Thursday

Texas is under siege. Only Republicans can save us. Democrats have contributed to the decline of America and, given half a chance, will open our borders, legalize drugs, raise our taxes and impede America’s return to god-given greatness.

That’s certainly one takeaway after talking with voters at local polling places and their homes as well as the politicians seeking their votes this fall. Rhetoric once reserved for late-night talk-radio hosts is now voiced by the president and his political allies — which means it’s on our lips as well. More than anything in Central Texas, I heard fears of and resentment for hordes of invaders. Sometimes this means the “caravan” of Central American emigrants seeking refuge in the United States. Sometimes it means illegal immigrants already in our midst seeking easy handouts, at least so far as we know in our fact-free times.

And sometimes it means fellow citizens.

Much of this echoes Fox personality Laura Ingraham’s controversial lament in August: “In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country’s changed. Now, much of this is related to both illegal and in some cases legal immigration that of course progressives love.

While Ingraham lost sponsors over this monologue, the message resonates strongly with many Republican voters in Central Texas — and seems to justify other questionable votes.

“I mean, I don’t like giving people free stuff. I’m not for sanctuary cities, I’m not for immigrants,” said the 49-year-old owner of a highway maintenance company who went on to acknowledge that, yes, he had some 60 immigrants in his workforce and, frankly, they were no better or worse than American-born workers. When I asked if he would be OK if the immigrants under his charge were deported, he replied: “No, it wouldn’t be OK because it’s difficult to replace employees, period.”

When I asked whether all employers should be required to use E-Verify to determine employee immigration status, he paused: “Look, I haven’t got a problem with immigrants as long as they pay their way — pay their school taxes, if they go to the hospital, pay their dues. That’s it.”

I heard this theme fairly often, including from a 55-year-old aircraft technician who told me the immigrants with whom he’s acquainted “don’t like our country and are just looking for handouts.”

While President Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz sealed the latter’s re-election victory against challenger Beto O’Rourke by stressing the likelihood of malevolent forces in the mass of Central Americans headed our way — terrorists from the Middle East and MS-13 gang members were routinely mentioned — Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, 73, talked of how many of these immigrants are likely diseased as well, a claim some experts contest. He told me of his conversation with federal officials tending to more than 450 immigrant children, ages 8 to 12, held temporarily at Greene Family Camp in southern McLennan County this summer.

“You know, I said, ‘Wait a minute now, everybody on that side of the fence is illegal, you know, and whoa, but, uh, did you check these youngsters for disease? Chagas, plague, TB, uh, you know?’ ‘Oh, no, if they’re sick, we treat them.’ ‘Yeah, but how about this Zika virus? It comes right out of the jungles in Central America. Those folks are carriers. It doesn’t make them bad people, but it’s just like somebody here being a carrier for, you know, STD or something.’

“And I said, ‘How about intestinal parasites? I’m a veterinarian.’ They looked at me like I had two heads.”

Sometimes invading forces turn out to be fellow citizens who bring different values and threaten to infect our conservative way of life. A bookkeeper in her 50s handing out candy on Halloween told of living in Colorado and how great it was till Californians began spilling into the state, contributing to crime and higher taxes. She now lives in Texas — yes, this means at some point she too was an outsider — and fears Californians pushing further east.

And there’s the 56-year-old delivery man who isn’t necessarily stupid but perhaps represents an extreme example of how folks busy in work-a-day lives no longer have time, energy or inclination to sort out complicated issues with any discrimination, let alone the candidates — and so rely more on social-media memes, talk radio and presidential tweets.

“It’s just, I don’t know, some people running as Democrats aren’t worth a flip,” he told me.

Then he asked a question: “Is Ted Cruz the Republican?”

Yes, I replied, Ted Cruz is the Republican.

“Well, that guy running against him isn’t worth a flip. I just don’t like the guy running against Ted Cruz.”

In short, identity politics — all of the local folks cited above are white — is thoroughly baked into this electorate. As a result, just over half of Texans voting — and 60 percent of us in McLennan County — re-elected a Republican state attorney general under criminal indictment. And 51 percent of Texans voting — and 61 percent of us in McLennan County — re-elected a Republican state agriculture commissioner caught by Texas Rangers bilking state taxpayers, an official whose social-media posts are so profane that at least one cannot be shown to children. So much for taking law and order and agriculture seriously.

Yet I came across occasional reminders of why immigration is such an inconveniently layered issue in the land of the free, including a 69-year-old naturalized citizen who decades ago fled the Sandinista takeover of Nicaragua and now lives in the United States where she carved out a career as a teacher and administrator.

“I think people cannot just come into the country like that, bringing children and exposing them to harm,” she said, referring to immigrants fleeing poverty, crime and political violence for new lives in the United States and crossing our border illegally. “Then again, I don’t know the situation in Central America right now except they’re having a lot of problems. And people do have a right to look to better their lives. Maybe this is the only way.”