“HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THIS COUNTRY?!” shouts the talking head on TV.

I’m at an American diner. The kind with fried food and waitresses who call you “sweetie.” There is enough saturated fat in the air to cause a coronary event just by breathing.

My waitress is a middle-aged woman named “Muffin.” I know this because it’s written on her nametag.

There is a deer head mounted on the wall above the stove. There are taxidermied bass fish everywhere. The coffee tastes like bathwater. The eggs aren’t bad. The bacon sucks.

A giant television is mounted just above the bar. The volume is blaring. The talking heads are discussing political things. Controversial things. You get the feeling the commentators are unhappy people. As though maybe these commentators go home each evening and strangle small woodland creatures to unwind.

“THERE IS NO WAY TO SAVE THIS COUNTRY!” says the commentator.

The talking heads are practically shouting at each other. Their voices are so loud that everyone sitting at the breakfast counter has no choice but to watch two grown men hash it out on national television.

I wish the waitress would turn this malarkey off, but Muffin, like everyone else, has grown deaf to this kind of shouting. This is America. Land of the free. Home of 24-hour cable news channels.

“I HATE THIS COUNTRY!” shouts the guy on TV.

The commentator’s words slap me upside the face.

Sure, I realize they’re just trying to boost ratings. Yes, I get it. They’re just shock jocks. But this doesn’t make sense to me.

I realize I’m old fashioned, but I grew up with World-War-II-era grandparents. I was reared by men and women who remembered the Battle of the Bulge intimately. These were people who bought movie tickets to watch Bing Crosby perform patriotic numbers that lasted roughly as long as dental school. These were people who spoke of Pearl Harbor with hushed voices.

Moreover, I personally experienced the 9/11 era. I remember a time when you couldn’t get away with spewing hatred on America without earning a bruise.

I was a young man when the airplanes hit the Trade Towers. I was in my early 20s when my peers were getting sent to Afghanistan to die. Everyone was American to the core. You didn’t hate your country; you bled red, white, and blue.

No, I’m not saying our country was perfect—far from it—but you didn’t “hate” anyone.

The man next to me at the breakfast counter points to the TV and says, “Can you believe this crap?”

“No. I really can’t.”

“Why do people watch this stuff?”

I don’t know.

Someone at the bar asks the waitress to turn it off. She obliges. When the TV goes dark, something magical happens. Conversation at the bar picks up tempo. People start to actually talk to one another. Laughter ensues.

Imagine that.

My constituent starts speaking to me as he eats his runny eggs. We’re talking about real life. He tells me about his grandkids, about his career as a salesman for commercial sheet metal buildings, about his dog. And it’s rather nice.

The people on my right are talking about their upcoming plans for summer vacation. They’re going to the Florida Keys. They’re not married, because if they marry they’ll lose their Social Security. But they’re in a committed relationship. Sort of.

Even the waitress is chatting with the cook about her daughter, and how her kid is making all A’s in school—except in algebra. God love her. On the Eighth Day, Satan said unto the Lord, “I shall add the alphabet to math.”

After a few minutes, we at the bar aren’t nearly as tense as we were a few minutes earlier. Our collective blood pressure has gone down. We are almost happy. We are in good moods.

No, I don’t know how to save this country. But I know that turning off the TV is a good place to start.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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