The divisive case for giving Rush Limbaugh the Medal of FreedomRoundup
tags: media, conservatives, Rush Limbaugh
Brian Rosenwald is one of the co-editors of Made by History, a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Talk Radio's America."
President Trump ignited a firestorm by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest governmental award for civilians, to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh during his State of the Union address. To many Americans, Limbaugh is a misogynistic, racist, hatemonger who has contributed amply to our hyper polarized political and media landscapes — the antithesis of someone who should be receiving the medal of freedom. Many fans, however, cheered Trump’s move, viewing Limbaugh as someone who reshaped media to include their perspective, and who has tirelessly fought for bedrock American values — their values — for decades on the air, inspiring a generation of conservatives.
Both sides are right. Limbaugh has said countless abhorrent things about racial minorities, women, liberals, AIDS patients (for which he apologized), Democrats and individuals ranging from a young Chelsea Clinton to Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to actor Michael J. Fox. His comments have often been offensive, fueling and reinforcing not only bigotry and stereotypes about marginalized groups, but the perception that liberals are an America-hating enemy, who will resort to any tactics to destroy the country.
But through many of these comments he also gave Americans who felt marginalized, who believed norms had changed abruptly and without their consent, a voice. Limbaugh pioneered a new form of political media that reshaped radio and television, and paved the way for Donald Trump. Honoring him makes political sense for President Trump, because it further embeds into the political landscape the values and tactics of division and diversion on which his presidency depends.
On Aug. 1, 1988, Limbaugh made radio history by launching his national radio show. At the time, AM radio was facing an existential crisis: music sounded better on FM, which for decades had been luring away listeners and advertisers. AM needed unique programming to survive.
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