Essence of Limbaugh


The Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan examines the Donald Trump phenomenon. “It has nothing to do with the Republican Party … except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy.” In the Washington Post, Kagan writes:

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

“Incubator” is perhaps the right metaphor for where Trump developed. Unless it was a Petri dish. But I too am not sure it was the Republican Party proper. Certain influential players, sure. Senator Joseph McCarthy, Senator Barry Goldwater, Lee Atwater, and Roger Ailes. Rush Limbaugh and a host of imitators for sure. I recall how creepy the appearance of Rush Rooms at restaurants was in the early 1990s. People could eat their lunches and not miss out on their daily Two Minutes Hate. They could share an experience validated by others. Only the Hate ran three hours a day. Would you like some ketchup with your Orwell?

That was before Barack Obama. I wrote about the reaction to him by “Tea Baggers, the Birthers, the Deathers, Glenn Beck, town hall shouters, guys with guns, and Rep. Joe Wilson” for Huffington Post:

People weren’t this crazed over Jackie Robinson, were they? Father Coughlin was off the air by then. People’s minds were not as marinated in the mind poison the right-wing has pumped out daily for the last twenty years.

Case in point. I once worked in an office where a guy recorded Rush Limbaugh every afternoon. Using a small FM transmitter, he rebroadcast the show the next morning to fellow dittoheads in the building so they would be primed for Limbaugh’s live broadcast at noon.

No lie.

The RNC may not have directly spawned it, but thought it could control the monster by how much it fed it, deploy it as required, and bring it to heel the same way. But I watched enough 1950s and 1960s science-fiction films growing up to know how that would work out.

Kagan concludes:

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.

Those popular resentments and insecurities did not just happen. They were conceived in the Southern Strategy and nurtured on nearly 30 years of right-wing talk. Trump is the essence of Limbaugh. Now the creature has broken out of the lab.

Register voters and get down to the polls in November.

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