This is a confession.
When I got word of Rush Limbaugh’s death early on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday, my gut reaction was this: good riddance, you vicious bastard.
To be honest, I’ve always loathed and detested Rush.
In his 40 plus years behind the microphone, he transformed hatred, bitter resentment, and bigotry into public virtues in the conservative mind. He waged a relentless, decades-long assault on society’s weakest and most vulnerable, and he did it with a cruel, sadistic gusto.
Worst of all, Rush’s hatred and cruelty infected millions of Americans for two generations, making ugly, anti-social behavior socially acceptable and weaponizing it into a mass movement. He showed a generation of rightwing politicians and their rightwing media minions how to seize political power propagating hate through the media, and in doing so, he paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump.
Predictably, the paladins of the far right sang Rush’s praises when the news broke as if we had just lost the Winston Churchill of our generation. Said former Vice President Mike Pence: “Rush Limbaugh lived the American dream. He believed in this country and in the boundless potential of every American.” Conservative blogger Matt Walsh dubbed Rush “a true legend. Irreplaceable.” One anonymous Twitter account said: “A great speaker. A great man.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (who lauded Rush as “America’s anchorman”) actually ordered American flags to fly at half mast at the Florida State Capitol in Rush’s honor. Tea Party cofounder Michael Johns had this to say: “From the late ’80s until his death yesterday, #RushLimbaugh reached tens of millions of Americans with sensible and well articulated commentary that debunked our monolithic progressive media messaging. He both educated and inspired and changed America for the better. #RIPRush.”
Horseshit. Utterly shameless, vacuous horseshit.
The truth is that Rush Limbaugh was an awful, evil man who morally corrupted the souls of millions and inflicted tremendous, lasting harm on our country, a fact amply attested by the eruption of schadenfreude on social media.
“I really want to piss on #RushLimbaugh’s grave,” one guy said in a fairly typical tweet, “However, I’m late in line & I didn’t think I brought my fishing waders, with me. #BurnInHellRushLimbaugh and I sincerely hope it specifically exists, just for you.” Several .gifs that burned Rush in infernal effigy, as it were, cropped up, as did. gifs showing people dancing and celebrating Rush’s homegoing. One of these featured an endlessly repeating loop showing the Peanuts gang jumping for joy in their immortal Christmas play rehearsal jam.
No, most people were relieved to rid themselves of this serial abuser, glad to silence his hurtful, toxic voice. All this dancing on Rush’s grave did honestly seem unseemly in many ways, but I don’t think people were taking pleasure in his death or in the pain his family and friends now feel at his loss. People were simply expressing relief or exacting revenge for his many transgressions against them.
I really can’t blame people for reacting this way. You do reap what you sow. Hate on people and people will hate you back. This is an immutable law of human nature: that’s how it works.
But that day, the day of Rush Limbaugh’s exit from this world, was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a day for sober reflection and self-abasement.
That really made me stop and think about my own anger and hate.
The last six years–the Trump era, in other words–emotionally exhausted me. For six years, I carried a heavy burden of anger, outrage, and even hatred towards those who hate me.
Frankly, I’m just tired now.
The chronic outrage I and many of you took on didn’t achieve its purpose, for one thing. Outrage was for me my go-to weapon for resisting Trumpism. I thought that raising the alarm would motivate the good guys to act and perhaps even win over some on the dark side.
This did not happen.
Over and over, the far right has proved utterly impervious to decency or truth. They have rejected reason and facts, scorned goodness, and laughed at the very idea of the common good. They have cheated, they’ve lied, and now, they have resorted to violence to get their way, an ultimate rejection of democracy itself.
I have stopped trying to engage with conservatives or argue with them. It is utterly useless, and with nowhere to go, my righteous anger and outrage have just become an exhausting burden, a cancerous mass in my soul that has metastasized into hatred against the people who hate me.
Time to lay it down, and in its place, I’ve begun to focus on turning my attention to doing good and building a better country.
The death of Rush Limbaugh is a good place of departure for such a farewell to rage. It is not a good place to end, though, for he represents (and arguably helped create) a spirit of the age that manifests itself in millions of people. So let’s stop arguing with the far right. Let the blind lead the blind. Quarantine the aggressors while we step around them and go forward with making things better for the nation.
It is, of course, not so easy to segregate ourselves from the crazy, rightwing family members, neighbors, coworkers in our personal orbit, even if we are successful at quarantining the far right at the public level. For many of us, our lives remain deeply entangled and interconnected with people like this. Once again, the occasion of Rush Limbaugh’s passing provides us an illuminating example of how to handle this.
One lady tweeted this: “There comes a point where a person is so vile that their death is no longer a tragedy.” I disagree.
Death–even the death of the wicked–is always a tragedy. God not only created human beings to be immortal, He created us to be good.
On occasions when I heard Rush speak outside the sick, twisted nightmare world of his radio show, I always marveled at how intelligent and articulate he sounded. Even when he spoke from behind the golden microphone on the air, he showed great talent for influencing public opinion.
Love him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh was a great communicator endowed with power and ability by his Creator. Consider what he could have accomplished if he had chosen to use his gifts for good instead of for evil. What if he had spent his energies urging people to protect, defend, and help society’s weakest and most vulnerable instead of attacking and harming them?
Think of it …
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not excusing Rush’s evil deeds by saying this. I’m mourning them, and this is a lot better than hating him, especially if it moves me to oppose the evil of such people out of love rather than hate or anger.
When we forsake rage, see people as they were meant to be, and concentrate on doing what is good and right, we’ll all sleep a lot better.
Not a sermon. Just a thought.