Night of the Living Rush Fans

As a writer who believes in the power of the nuanced story, I am appalled by how easily our fellow Americans are provoked by the mere suggestion of doubt about blind patriotism and religious belief.
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We had the DVD from Netflix in our house for months but the time never seemed right to watch "Hotel Rwanda." I only steeled myself up to watch it after a friend of mine, Steve Erwin, who has co-written a book called Left to Tell, with a Rwandan survivor, told me that the movie wasn't as gory as all that, and besides, it was the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the genocide.

"Hotel Rwanda," it turns out, is by far and away the scariest movie I have ever seen. It's not the gore, of which there is less than an average Hollywood slasher flick, it's the imagery of real-life zombies marauding through a country, egged on by a hissing, hate-filled radio voice urging drooling hordes to find and eradicate "the cockroaches," who are, it turns out, other human beings.

I'd been thinking about blogging on this movie but I hadn't yet got around to it when last weekend I posted a long piece for on the untimely demise of my son's public country school last year. The school was tiny, and rural and over the course of his kindergarten year, we'd grown fond of it. We were sorry to see it die, thanks to the vicissitudes of local fiscal mismanagement and the disastrous Bush economy.

I wrote about how the school's 1950s style rafter-shaking reverence for flag and country had molded my son into a rote little patriot within a few months, and of how we felt uncomfortable about that. I also wrote that we finally learned to, if not exactly love our son's new reverence for flag, at least regard it as a reminder of innocent trust in the potential of a great country now careening towards disaster.

The article went up on the web Sunday, and before I was out of bed Monday morning my email queue was filled with furious emails from people I'd never met, accusing me of "elitism" and hatred of my own country. My new fans, it turned out, had been alerted to the piece by none other than our favorite recovered oxycontin addict, Rush Limbaugh. I was about to meet a group that Al Gore, I believe, has called the internet brownshirts.

For two days now, I've been swarmed with hilarious and vile letters urging me to leave the country for daring to admit to feeling uncomfortable about the rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, ugly notes filled with obscenities, many of them vaguely and even overtly threatening physical harm.

I'll admit that the personal nature of the piece invited the personal attacks, and, as one of the letter writers wrote, I'll just have to "suck it up" as far as the various inventions and ad hominem volleys. I can address one of the most odious ones here: I've been accused of being an "elitist," although my son now is one of two white children in an inner city public school classroom. Oh and I work for a living.

As a reader and writer who believes in the power of the nuanced story, though, what I am most appalled at by all this is how easily our fellow Americans are provoked by the mere suggestion of doubt about blind patriotism and religious belief, and feel themselves so viscerally wounded by such questions that they lose their rational faculties, including their ability to understand what they read.

This brings me back to the zombies of Rwanda, set in motion by the hissing of a series of passwords and allegations from hate-filled radio. No, Rush's people don't wield machetes - at least not yet. What would they be capable of if this nation were ever reduced suddenly and drastically by economic or environmental or civic collapse?

I invite readers of this blog to have a look at just one or two of the letters from the internet brownshirt club. The collective sense of persecution and class rage is monstrous to behold. Welcome to the vitriolic bounty that is this nation's harvest to reap in 2006.

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