Hate has no place here

Stacey Newman

By Stacey Newman

A prominent Missourian from Cape Girardeau died last week, and elected leaders were quick to applaud or acknowledge his “controversial” work.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Rush Limbaugh’s longtime national radio program with a reach of more than 14 million weekly listeners as “conservative talk radio with a bombastic style.”  

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt referred to Limbaugh as “one of the most powerful conservative voices in our country but who always stayed grounded in his Missouri roots and Midwest values.” 

And Missouri’s junior senator, Republican Josh Hawley, said Limbaugh “lived the First Amendment and told hard truths that made the elite uncomfortable.”

After President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission in 1987 abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which had required federal broadcast licensees to present issues honestly, equitably and with balance, Limbaugh unleashed his manic, right-wing shock jock.

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Limbaugh’s style was hate speech cloaked as entertainment, as he strove to become the national voice of conservatives. He went after every marginalized group and minority. Sexism, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia were his specialty. His bigotry and promotion of “birtherism” skyrocketed after President Barack Obama was elected. He described marriage equality as “perverted,” “depraved” and a movement to normalize pedophilia. He called transgender people “mentally ill.”

Limbaugh despised immigrants, refugees and those in poverty. He mirrored white nationalist talking points. He treated women with such disdain that his misogyny could be summed up with his oft repeated tirade: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”  

In the past year, Limbaugh criticized the media for overhyping COVID-19, repeated fringe theories linking the pandemic to Chinese biological weapons and insisted the entire virus threat was an effort to politically harm President Donald Trump. He took no prisoners, never backing down as he celebrated his abusive attacks on air and was called the most dangerous man in America.

It wasn’t long before Limbaugh became the so-called official voice of the Republican Party as he held the door wide open for Trump’s unabashed hateful rhetoric. 

GOP leaders acquiesced while Trump pushed thousands of lies from the White House; urged extremist followers to “stand back and stand by;” stated “there were very fine people on both sides” after white supremacist anti-Semitic violence in Charlottesville, Va.; and attacked the media and eventually his own 2020 presidential election results, inciting the U.S. Capitol insurrection that killed five people and injured hundreds of law enforcement officers.

Last year, Trump presented Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But before that, in 2012, then Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, installed Limbaugh’s bust in the Missouri State Capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians.

I was there as a state representative, but Democratic legislators and the public were prevented from attending the secret unveiling. We were locked out of the House chamber for the ceremony as armed Highway Patrol officers guarded the hallways, making sure we were kept out of the people’s house.

Never mind that thousands of Missourians signed petitions and expressed outrage that Limbaugh’s bust would be placed next to those of Harry Truman, former Gov. Warren Hearnes, George Washington Carver, Stan Musial and other beloved Missourians.  The bust is there today in the Capitol rotunda with its very own security camera.

U.S. Rep Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, memorialized him after his death, saying: “Rush Limbaugh is an irreplaceable legend in the conservative movement as his radio show inspired generations of Americans to uphold our country’s conservative values.”

Republican Missouri’s Republican attorney general, Eric Schmitt, urged Limbaugh to rest in peace as “an authentic voice for American conservatives.” 

Missouri Republican Party chairman Nick Myers said: “To some, he was the ‘most dangerous man in America.’ To others, he was a comforting daily presence giving voice to the ‘the way things ought to be’… he let millions know daily that they were not alone in their common-sense conservatism.”

And then last Friday, State Rep. Hardy Billington, R-Poplar Bluff, introduced HB1200 designating Jan. 12, Limbaugh’s birthday, as “Rush Limbaugh Day” in Missouri.

Common sense conservatism synonymous with hate? Midwest values? The way things ought to be?  Is hate a virtue to celebrate, ignoring those harmed?

In addition to the vitriol Limbaugh promoted his entire career, he divided our community.  

His inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric, sometimes anti-Semitic, came with his unabashed support of Israel. Limbaugh often repeated his term “feminazi,” a verbal assault on progressive pro-choice women, sharply dividing liberal American Jews who consider themselves also pro-Israel. Conservative Jews applauded him as a “great friend of Israel,” turning a blind eye to the hate speech.

Is this who we are? A community willing to overlook discrimination and verbal persecution if it serves a separate purpose? Bigotry portrayed as humor is acceptable if Israel gains a solid ally within the Republican Party? Have we not learned from our own history?

We have much to repair. 

Hate should never be lauded in the sacrificing of human lives, used for profit or for political gain.

Stand firm.

Hate has no place here.

Stacey Newman, a former Missouri state legislator, is the executive director of ProgressWomen, a statewide social justice group focused on justice and equality issues.