So that the right-wing, faux-outrage crowd does not have a meltdown, let me be clear: I am sorry to hear talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh has cancer. Any decent person should hope he has a full recovery. His health condition, however, does not excuse a career of hate-filled racism, homophobia and misogyny, nor remotely justify giving him a high honor in the form of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That honor has been granted to patriots and heroes, human rights leaders and artistic trailblazers, ranging from Rosa Parks to Elie Wiesel to George Balanchine.
[Critics] pointed to the time Limbaugh — a divisive media figure who has been accused of racist and sexist remarks — called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” because of her support of women’s access to birth control. Or when he promoted the debunked birther claim that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Or when he questioned why Native Americans would be upset about their forced removal and ethnic cleansing since “they all have casinos.” Or when he compared asylum seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy. Or when he said that actor Michael J. Fox was faking the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease.
Lists of some of Limbaugh’s most hateful utterances are being circulated to underscore a simple truth: He is the embodiment of divisive, hateful right-wing media rhetoric, which, just like Trump, casts Democrats as evil and the media as enemies of the people.
In a sense, Limbaugh is the perfect idol for Trump and his cultist followers, who seal themselves off from reality and immerse themselves in conspiracy theories. A president who considers himself as president of only his supporters and who has debased and cheapened our language and our politics, making the reprehensible perfectly acceptable, would of course want to honor someone of Limbaugh’s ilk.
Republicans, who claim to be offended by the accusation they were knuckling under to Trump on impeachment (before they knuckled under on impeachment) and collapse on the fainting couch when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rips up her copy of Trump’s historically divisive and dishonest address, cheer Trump’s selection.
Maya Wiley, an attorney, professor and civil rights activist, observes: “The hand wringing over Nancy Pelosi tearing up a speech full of misdirection is overshadowing the real offense to decency. Trump honoring the racist and sexist Rush Limbaugh is the latest slap in the face of ‘a more perfect union.’” She adds: “He pardoned [former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio], who joked about the concentration camp conditions of his detention of undocumented immigrants. He pardoned war criminals over the objection of his military leaders, and now this.” And yet the media dutifully propagates the feigned outrage of Republicans over Pelosi’s gesture.
The media might for once decline to be manipulated in another Republican theatrical stunt. Put in front of Republicans some of Limbaugh’s hateful statements and ask why they cheer the award. Ask them if the president of the United States should honor birthers or openly misogynistic media personalities. When the next Republican spinner or campaign operative talks about Trump seeking to make headway with African Americans or Hispanics, ask whether honoring Limbaugh sends a message about Trump’s real attitudes.
Trump’s great lie is convincing Americans that white males no matter what their conduct — Brett Kavanaugh, convicted war criminals and, most of all, himself — are victims of elites. That, in turn, gives them license to unleash bigotry and engage in intolerable, unhinged conduct, all in the name of vindicating themselves from oppression. That mentality of grievance, propagated effectively by Limbaugh, is nothing more than cover for white nationalism. The country should denounce, not honor, its practitioners.