Main Street at Midnight

At a Memorial Day service in a small town cemetery, the sheriff bemoaned the “unpatriotic media that criticizes our American values and mocks our president.” What should have been a compassionate speech honoring the sacrifice of our soliders was instead laced with the venom of talk radio. Standing among the flags and tombstones, hand over my heart, I listened as he spoke of a hallucinatory war on terror, “a war which may never be won.” I glanced at the nearby graves of my father and grandfather, both veterans, and wondered what they would think of this sheriff. His message was clear: we live in a state of perma-war therefore we should not question our government. The crowd quietly dispersed for hot dogs.

“There are only volunteers in hell,” the radio said as I pointed the car south. Strange how many towns in rural America are named after other places: Lima, Sparta, Warsaw, Lahore, Cairo, Versailles, and Lebanon. Did their founders expect they might one day rival these cities and nations? I scrolled through the vicious ecclesiastics and berserkers of talk radio, an endless opera of fear masquerading as fury. “This is a war for our souls, ladies and gentlemen, so join the conservative army—” static “—fight to remain a Christian nation—” static “—where the second amendment comes first.” Conservative talk radio is the sound of hysterical white skeletons indoctrinating a cult, nudging its members toward real-life violence in the name of Jesus Christ and George Washington. And there is something very rotten in Christendom today if it can be used to sanctify greed, bigotry, pollution, and automatic weapons. This is where the battle for America’s soul must be fought: against a church that provides spiritual cover for corrupt politicians and our cruelest impulses.

After sixteen hours of talk radio, interstate winds, and screaming into metal boxes for food, my grip on the world grew slippery, an effect heightened by a new chorus of voices that began flickering through the static after midnight. Why can’t we escape the earth? they asked. Why is the universe so hostile to life? One caller was convinced we’re living beneath a dome on a different planet. Another worried that humans might be a dark army for an alien force. Maybe the universe does not exist, they said. Perhaps the sun is hanging from a tree somewhere. Compared to the talking points circulating through our radios and screens, these people sounded positively open-minded.

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