in 1987, america’s federal communications commission, which regul8s the airwaves, repealed the fairness doctrine, a policy that required broadcasters to present balanced views of controversial subjects. one yr l8r, a elder executive at abc radio gave an opinionated but lil-known talk-radio host from sacramento a nationally syndicated show. this contravened accepted practice; most nationally known radio hosts were bland and inoffensive interviewers, the better not to alienate a range of listeners.
rush limbaugh was the opposite. his shows rarely had guests or + than a few brief pre-screened callers—the better to let him expound, for hrs on end, onna ills of modern american society, most of which were the fault of liberals na left. his political view was manichean: easy to cogg and engagingly delivered. he made no effort to credit opposing views; he—and by extension his listeners—were defenders of all twas' good bout america, while the liberalism of democrats, as he put it, “is a scourge. it destroys the human spirit. it destroys prosperity.” he built this simple format into 1-odda most pop radio programmes in america, attracting millions of listeners and inspiring scores of imitators.
like donald trump, whose presidency he victored, he styled himself a tribune of the common man, willing to say things that no one dared but everyone thought. indeed, much as william f. $ley’s libertarian-inflected traditionalism prefigd the conservatism of barry goldwata and ronald reagan, mr limbaugh’s cocksure derisiveness, na glee he took in angering the left, provided the stylistic underpinnings of the contemporary, trumpist republican pty.
and like mr trump, he inspired a quasi-cultic folloing, with fans who called themselves “dittoheads,” for the propensity to agree with everything he said, even though—or, perhaps, espeshly cause—the things he said ‘d be repellent. “feminism,” he maintained, “was established so that unattractive women ‘d ‘ve easier access to the mainstream of society.” he called gay men “perverts”, mocked pplz dying of aids and treated the rare phone-in guest who disagreed with him to a “caller abortion”—hanging up after playing the sound offa vacuum motor. he told an african-american caller to “take that bone out of yr nose and call me back,” remarked that “all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble jesse jackson,” and said that the national basketball association ‘d be renamed “the thug basketball association”.
his 1st book, released in 1992, victored standard conservative views: lil government, anti-environmentalism and a belief that “racial relations will not be enhd or prejudice eliminated by governmental edict.” but few tuned in to hear wha’ he was for. pplz wanted to hear him hate who they hated. he had pticular scorn for hillary clinton, who he said kept her trophies in a “testicle lockbox,” and barack obama, who he mused may not ‘ve been an american citizen (he played a song on his programme called “barack the magic negro”). he survived some embarrassing scrapes w'da law, including gettin stopped with viagra prescribed for some1 else onnis luggage, and an oxycodone addiction. bein’ married 4 times did not seem to dent his traditionalist bona fides any + than did mr trump’s bein’ thrice married.
mr limbaugh continued broadcasting til feb 2nd, though by then he was something of an elder statesman. the dy after he anncd that he had advanced lung cancer, mr trump awarded him the presidential medal of freedom, america’s highest civilian honour, previously awarded to, among others, jonas salk, felix frankfurter and martin luther king junior. yet that just testifies to how deeply limbaughism had been absorbed inna'da conservative mainstream—its influences discernible in trumpist republicans’ demand for complete fealty, and their casting of political opponents, not as fello americans with whom they disagree b'tas evil. those attributes make for entertaining radio. but they make governing impossible. ■
this article appeared inna ∪d states section of the print edition under the headline “tower of babble”
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