Alan Zendell, February 18, 2021
We’re taught never to speak ill of the dead. Why? Is it mere political correctness, good taste, or squeamishness? One of the few things about which I agreed with Donald Trump was the need to do away with most forms of political correctness, which is simply lying or refusing to acknowledge the truth. As children, we were taught not to lie, except, that is, when older, wiser adults winked at all those “little white lies” they told us.
Except, there’s no such thing as a white lie. White lies are either an unwillingness to face an uncomfortable truth or a cowardly way of avoiding controversy. There have been many truly evil people in the world. You know who they were. They were evil when they lived and their legacy was still evil when they died. The thing is, if we shrink from telling the unpleasant truth about them in their epitaphs, if we do not shine a spotlight on their vile beliefs and deeds, we increase the risk of having them repeated by others.
Everyone defines evil in his own way, but Rush Limbaugh fit my definition to a tee. Listening to him, it was easy to conclude that he was a bigot and a misogynist, an image he reveled in. He coined the term “Feminazi” to describe women who chose not to be subservient to men. He described black people and welfare recipients (which for him, were synonymous) as leeches and cheats, stealing from the mouths of “hard-working white men.” In 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton’s first term, Limbaugh was not content to speak vilely about Hillary Clinton, the First Lady. He described Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, as the thirteen-year-old whore in the White House. What kind of person does that?
That stuff is damning enough, but my own view of Rush Limbaugh is even worse. I believe he was a charlatan, adopting a racist, populist persona for the sole purpose of enriching himself. It was much like the fake right-wing extremist character Stephen Colbert created in the Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, except that Colbert’s viewers knew he was simply in character. While pretending to be the champion of the working (white) man, Limbaugh lived extravagantly, owning a private jet and amassing an estate worth $600 million. The real Rush Limbaugh was a self-styled mover and shaker of presidents.
Limbaugh didn’t invent the populist, White Supremacist wing of the Republican Party, but he was one of its principal proponents and supporters until Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs came along. To some degree, he was an early creation of Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News. Ailes’ dream was to awaken a silent majority of angry white men and call them to action to take back what was rightfully theirs, and Limbaugh was his “beta” test of the concept. When it worked to the extent that Limbaugh daily peddled his hate to a syndicated network of 160 radio stations, Fox News quickly followed, unabashedly calling its news coverage fair and balanced, which was about the same as Mao Tse Tung calling his Chinese Communist regime the People’s Republic of China.
But there’s more. The evil twins, Ailes and Limbaugh, viewed themselves as king makers. To fulfill that prophesy, they turned their duo into a triumvirate, recruiting a businessman turned television personality with a huge ego and a reputation for ignoring rules and ethics, and flaunting laws whenever it was convenient. Moreover, their new disciple got away with it more often than not. Thus was given birth to Trumpism, which is simply an updated, expanded version of the filth and philosophy Limbaugh peddled for thirty years. Originally a supporter of Ted Cruz in 2016, Limbaugh jumped aboard the Trump bandwagon as soon as it was clear that even the hateful Cruz was no match for Trump’s shameless pandering of lies and bigotry. Limbaugh had as much to do with keeping Trump’s base in line as anyone in America.
Given all that, should we praise Limbaugh as we bury him? Or, now that our country has reached a critical fork in the road with respect to Trump’s movement, should we call a spade a spade? Trump didn’t invent himself. He was the product of a carefully choreographed movement engineered by Ailes and Limbaugh. That, and the hate he spread for all those years until Trump took over the mantle of right-wing extremist in chief, are the despicable legacy of Rush Limbaugh. The world is a better place without him in it.