Rush Limbaugh did far more damage than talk shit.
“Turn this off! I don’t want to hear her liberal bullshit!”- shouted my supervisor, who pointed angrily at the TV in reference to Nancy Grace. Why was he so angry? Nancy Grace didn’t even share leftist ideology- her schtick was more along the lines of following the latest missing white girl case. Certainly nothing on Nancy Grace was worth expressing that level of anger. Unfortunately in this environment it was not only normal, but accepted and unchecked. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force between 2009 and 2014. It was very white, very male and extremely hostile. He represented an era of baby boomers in the workplace who sat around and complained about Obama, calling the former Harvard law professor an “idiot” when they- in spite of all their privilege, complained about needing to complete an associate’s degree to be promoted (an Air Force requirement to make it past the rank of E-7). This experience helped me learn quite a bit about angry blue collar white men, and why they vote the way they do. If it weren’t for this experience, I would be quite lost.
My supervisor let the whole office know that he was at odds with his son for dating a Black girl, and that he was accused of being racist- when in fact he just found her “inappropriate”. Meanwhile, with him as my supervisor he passed me up for awards and recognition- although I superseded my white male counterparts in the steps needed for upward mobility. He offered them additional opportunities that would help with retirement and other benefits. It became apparent rather quickly that I represented his son’s girlfriend. Particularly being educated and from the northeast (I am from Boston and was working/living in South Carolina), so I was “uppity” and dated both Black and white men unapologetically. I was the thorn in his side- and just another a Black girl who dared to encroach upon his world which he did his part to keep white-male dominated.
It was at this time I learned first-hand about Rush Limbaugh- i’d only heard the name, but he was talked about like an evangelical minister. I’ll never forget the first and last time I listened to him- out of curiosity. He went ALL THE WAY OFF about Michael Jackson’s kids after his death. Yelling, screaming that “they’re white” and we can’t be fooled. And I remember thinking “um…so?” That was the last time I ever lent him my ear. I was horrified- I thought “THIS is what they listen to on their commutes to and from work? No wonder they are so hateful towards me.” And to think that wasn’t even the worst of what Rush Limbaugh had been allowed to say on the air, with the platform and backing of Fox News.
In the 2015 documentary, “The Brainwashing Of My Dad”, filmmaker Jen Senko explores how the far right was able to get ahold of mass media and infiltrate our radio waves with racist, homophobic, misogynist vitriol that ruined her family and many others. What is interesting about this documentary is that it was created on the precipice of the Trump era. It was a cautionary tale and warning about what was to come. And it showed that people who otherwise believed in equality and didn’t think about race or socioeconomic class were given the language of hate. White men were taught that equality for others is a threat to them. Through Fox News and the far worse Fox News radio, they were told that immigrants were not only taking valuable resources that should be only for use by (white) American people, but that they were committing crimes and were a threat to democracy itself. It created the kind of fear that begot hate. But up until the Trump era, it really only resonated with aging white men who couldn’t keep up with the times. Now, unfortunately this cancer that has infected our society has gotten even younger far right extremists onboard- from the Proud Boys to Tomi Lahren- they are all carrying Limbaugh’s legacy into the post-Trump era.
Thankfully, Black Lives Matter was not on their radar at the time. It was merely a hashtag. It was founded by 3 Black women in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Fox News had not gotten wind of this movement or at least had not seen it as a threat as they do now (calling it a terrorist organization and other such nonsense). But the seed had been planted, which inspired me to get involved with Black Lives Matter Charleston in 2013. This is when I started to see the memes- justifying why Trayvon Martin “deserved” to be killed. This is when there was an uptick of interest in gun ownership as a personality trait. The death of Trayvon Martin inspired a blood-thirst for Black protesters and it spilled over into the work place and into homes.
Rush Limbaugh did more than talk shit on the radio. He laid the groundwork for an entire generation of people to dismiss the lived experiences of others. It went beyond families and workplaces. Rush Limbaugh helped shape and influence policy. He enacted the tipping point that gave us Trump. It wasn’t just hateful, grumpy old military leaders in their limited influence and retired dads who listened to Rush Limbaugh. People who had power in the public sector listened to Rush Limbaugh, too. People who had the power to make decisions about voting, districting, public housing and much more also listened to Rush Limbaugh. People who served on jury duty listened to Rush Limbaugh and sent Black people to prison and separated families. And finally, police officers listened to Rush Limbaugh- like the one in Boston who bragged about hitting people with his car, as we’ve seen happen in several peaceful protests now.
As shocking as it was to see Trump award Limbaugh with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Rush is the reason that Trump was in office. It was the most grand gesture he could make for helping to create a toxic wasteland of an environment that makes poor white people think that they’re capitalists and direct their anger at other disenfranchised and marginalized people.