Rush Hudson Limbaugh III has died at the age of 70. Now, I’m never going to be the one to delight in someone’s death, but I’m also finding it very hard to mourn a man that spent his career mocking people and sowing hatred. When Jerry Garcia died, Limbaugh himself proclaimed “Just another dead doper. And a dirtbag,” and this is the kind of negative attitude that I think a lot of people have regarding Rush right now. For over 30 years, Limbaugh grew his audience, and while his supporters paid homage to him this past week, I’ve realized just how dangerous his words really were.
Donald Trump gets a lot of credit for creating the ideological group that came to support him, but these people have existed since far before Trump came onto the political scene. In fact, they’ve existed in the shadows for a very long time, but without a significant platform. For a long time, the two dominant political parties both operated somewhere in the moderate area of the spectrum, with a healthy amount of bipartisanship that drove progress in the nation. Since the 1980s, the Republican party has been pulling away from the middle, and this is completely due to the validation given to the party’s more fringe members. First there was Ronald Reagan, the originator of “Make America Great Again” as a presidential campaign slogan (just when we thought Melania ripping off Michelle’s speech was bad), who brought to popularity an attitude of not being afraid to shed his filter and speak with zero impunity. Rush Limbaugh started similarly, a radio host who carried himself with the attitude that he was going to tell it like it was, no matter what, and the fringe far-right base responded incredibly positively to it. Now, arguments can be made that Rush was completely within his rights to say everything he said, and sure, inflammatory rhetoric in a vacuum isn’t going to start any fires, but we don’t live in that world. We live in a world with many people who are simply looking for a comfortable space to put their feelings of hatred, and Rush gave millions of people that space. When a man with an immense platform airs a parody song called “Barack, the Magic N*gro,” makes homophobic jokes like “when a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it’s an invitation” or speaks about feminism by saying that it “was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society,” he’s not simply speaking his mind, he’s putting people in danger. Now while those quotes are all incredibly offensive, it’s the volume of rhetoric that Limbaugh was able to spout that is problematic. For example, I wrote an article about how Tucker Carlson spreads misinformation that leads to his watchers causing trouble, and he has only been on the air since 2016. Rush Limbaugh’s show was on national radio for literally eight times as long, and during his reign, the Republican party went from people like George H.W. Bush, to Newt Gingrich and then to people like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Josh Hawley, a group of Rush Limbaugh-like speakers who’ve been able to gain political power.
When someone makes that argument that free speech is something that was meant to be completely unmonitored, all someone needs to do is point them to Rush Limbaugh’s resume. Sure, in a behind-closed-doors conversation between people that respect each other deeply, there is room for pushing the envelope, but when the people spouting hate speech are given a platform, they validate the thousands of people ready to hear it, and then in turn those people vote in political candidates who want to change this country’s laws to reflect that hate speech. It is a vicious cycle, and while you may not be able to argue that without Rush Limbaugh there would be no Dylann Roof, or no Capitol riot, no other hate crimes like that, it is certain that the volume of hate speech that is allowed to populate the intellectual space contributes significantly to the volume of hate crimes that are committed.