Rush Limbaugh Taught Republicans To RageRoundup
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, media, Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio
Neil J. Young is a historian and the author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics. He writes frequently on American politics, culture, and religion for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, HuffPost, Vox, and Politico. He co-hosts the history podcast Past Present.
It is said that we should not speak ill of the dead. But how should one remark on the life of a man who made hundreds of millions of dollars mocking and demeaning the dead and the dying?
On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh, America's most famous radio personality and rabble rouser, died at the age of 70 from complications of lung cancer. For more than three decades on "The Rush Limbaugh Show," Limbaugh, now being gently hailed by even such places as The New York Times as the "voice of conservative America," used his airwaves to spew vitriol and hate, all the while pushing the Republican Party, with the help of Fox News, to the extreme right where it now simmers. His tirades, tantrums, and trolling, once unique, became standard operating procedure for an entire conservative media ecosystem that arose in the same years — and for a Republican Party that replaced its once-held belief in good governance with an oversized sense of white grievance as its driving impulse.
Almost daily, Limbaugh raged against immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, and especially, women. Those rants trafficked in standard xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and misogyny, drilling what should have been out-of-bounds ideas and language right into the center of his more than 15 million weekly listeners' heads and hearts. To the straight-up bigotry, Limbaugh added a thin layer of political commentary. What he was calling out, Limbaugh argued, was liberals' exaggerated "victimhood." "There isn't a non-conservative individual in this country, according to Democrats, who is not a victim…of this country," Limbaugh yelled during a 2012 show.
Of course, as much as Limbaugh wanted to root out any talk by minorities or women of historic injustices and real grievances from American life and politics, his show's most significant legacy may be in how he cultivated a sense of personal victimhood in his listeners, a group that was overwhelmingly white and male. Their outrage, stoked by Limbaugh's daily diatribes, remade an entire political party and drove it to the outrageous outcome of Donald Trump's rise to power.
Limbaugh's enraged anger that white, heterosexual males were the most embattled and persecuted American demographic pulsed through his show and animated his cruel attacks on others. Even from the perspective of today's degraded political culture that he helped bring about, Limbaugh's cruelty remains shocking.
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