Culture Wars in the Heartland: Guntoters Against Socialism, Or George Saunders Was Right

Live from St. Louis, Missouri: So I’m travelling across Kansas (after a night in Hays, Kansas, at the Candlewood Suites, which should be renamed the Candlewood Sucks) and pass a billboard proclaiming, “Obama Is a Fraud: Demand Resignation Now!” The next billboard was, “Say No to Socialism!” I’ve been noticing more of these lately, often crudely hand-painted (and misspelled) jeremiads against Socialism, Bailouts, and assorted sins of our President’s policies. In Colorado I was in a second-hand shop talking to the nice shop owner, only to notice she had Glenn Beck on her TV. I’m not pretending a thorough study here, but it seems to me the Culture Wars are heating up in the Heartland.
All summer long the guntoters were actively shooting on our mountaintop in Colorado. One of my neighbors (I have many of them that are good friends; these aren’t in that category) was out “target practicing” in the middle of the day, loud gunshots resounding over our hills, and another neighbor of mine went to investigate: Turns out the guntoters had seen a bear in their yard and were “target practicing” to defend themselves from said bear. (One thing I said: If you have to shoot a bear because it’s trouble, it should be close enough that only a blind person would need “target practice” to hit it.) We had another neighbor shooting his pistol in his front yard, right off our main road, and I walked over their and confronted him. He said he was “sighting his pistol,” shooting it downhill toward a road and houses, the genius. There were too many shooters to name them all, but once it was after 11 pm, which made me wonder if they were shooting each other.
I’ve read quite a bit of Tea Party nonsense, and I think some of that ‘movement’ is exaggerated, but it’s hard to ignore an uptick in RightWing Anger. George Saunders, author of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, The Brief & Frightening Reign of Phil, and The Braindead Megaphone (among others), argues, with great wit, against the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, with his Braindead Megaphone idea: Basically that RightWing forces are shouting across our country and stifling intelligent debate about the issues, often in league with big money interests who profit from misguided and counterproductive policies, like the lack of any coherent plan to address climate change, which ultimately is against the (shortsighted) interests of Big Oil.
George is a great guy, great storyteller, and a kind person. He visited our campus (Penn State) last March and gave a knockout reading of “Sea Oak,” one of his classic stories in Pastoralia. Perhaps one of his most impressive feats was to live in a tent city in California for 10 days. He wrote a piece for it for Harper’s magazine. He mentioned that he had a plan to expand it into a full-length book. I thought of him in Hays, Kansas, as I noticed a number of homeless people wandering around the interstate access roads, a surprising sight in the middle of the heartland, far from the disenfranchised crowds you see in major cities. Somehow those homeless seem part of the Culture Wars (like illegal immigrants, they’re “undesirables” that the guntoters are target practicing for), the grimy troops of the battles.

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