Cape Girardeau’s own Rush Limbaugh has a long history of making misogynist, racist remarks during his national radio broadcast. He once said a Georgetown law student’s call for contraception access “makes her a slut.” He suggested actor Michael J. Fox was faking symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. He even compared former first daughter Chelsea Clinton to a dog when she was still a child living in the White House. Seemingly nothing is out of bounds.
For decades, Limbaugh has been the most prominent voice of the toxic right on talk radio, warping political debates with vitriol and dividing Americans against each other for the sake of intolerance and ratings. No wonder our most divisive president honored Limbaugh last week with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Donald Trump — who has long shown an eagerness to twist pardons, hallowed ceremonial events and other presidential prerogatives to his own self-serving purposes — can now add the Medal of Freedom to the list of sacred traditions he has sullied. During his State of the Union speech, Trump engineered a cheap reality-TV moment by announcing the award to Limbaugh right from the podium. He then made America watch as first lady Melania Trump clasped one of the nation’s two highest civilian honors around the neck of a man who fuels some of its lowest political discourse.
The spectacle was especially shocking against the backdrop of earlier, truly high-caliber recipients: Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, literary greats John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison, music giants B.B. King and Aretha Franklin, and labor leader Cesar Chavez.
They and most other recipients clearly lived up to the stated intent of the medal, which is to honor those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
In what universe does any of that describe the man who once declared that the purpose of feminism is to “allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society”? That “all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson”? That Native Americans “all have casinos, what’s to complain about?”
But make no mistake: This ultimately wasn’t about Limbaugh but Trump. It was entirely a wink from this deliberately polarizing president to the angriest elements of his base, and a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who view Limbaugh as the personification of everything that’s wrong with the radical right today.
Limbaugh recently announced he has Stage 4 lung cancer, which should evoke compassion no matter what your politics. But that compassion doesn’t negate the decades of poison Limbaugh has pumped into America’s political bloodstream — nor the malicious cynicism evident in Trump’s decision to honor that poison with this storied medal.