Lots of people are writing about Rush Limbaugh now that he is dead. Bill (aka Wilfred) wrote about Rush a decade ago for Commentary magazine and pretty much capture the phenomenon that was The Rush Limbaugh Show. He describes a dynamic that made Donald Trump attractive and that continues to polarize the people who live in the United States:
Talk radio is, implicitly, talk-back radio—a medium tuned into during times of frustration, exasperation, even desperation, by people who do not find that their thoughts, sentiments, values, and loyalties are fairly or even minimally represented in the “official” media. Such feelings may be justified or unjustified, wholesome or noxious; but in any event they are likely to fester and curdle in the absence of some outlet in which they can be expressed. Talk radio is a place where people can go to hear opinions freely expressed that they will not hear elsewhere, and where they can come away with a sense of confirmation that they are not alone, are not crazy, and are not wrong to think and feel such things. The existence of such frustrations and fears are the sine qua non of talk radio; it would not exist without them.
In other words, will Scott Simon at NPR ever recognize why he never gets under the skin of his regular listeners? He can imagine — and only imagine — how his coverage might sound to Trump voters. But have journalists like him ever challenged the assumptions and prejudices of elites in business, entertainment, federal agencies, and the academy? Is that even possible?
So, some Americans looked to talk radio:
The critics may be correct that the flourishing of talk radio is a sign of something wrong in our culture. But they mistake the effect for the cause. Talk radio is not the cause, but the corrective. In our own time, and in the person of Rush Limbaugh, along with others of his talk-radio brethren, a problem of long-standing in our culture has reached a critical stage: the growing loss of confidence in our elite cultural institutions, including the media, universities, and the agencies of government. The posture and policies of the Obama presidency, using temporary majorities and legislative trickery to shove through massive unread bills that will likely damage the nation and may subvert the Constitution, have brought this distrust to a higher level. The medium of talk radio has played a critical role in giving articulate shape and force to the resistance. If it is at times a crude and bumptious medium, it sometimes has to be, to disarm the false pieties and
self-righteous gravitas in which our current elites too often clothe themselves. Genuinely democratic speech tends to be just that way, in case we have forgotten.
McClay wrote that ten years ago.
2 thoughts on “Rush Ten Years Ago”
Historically, oral culture–which talk radio embodies–has been agonistic.
Carrying this concept a bit further, listen to “sports” talk radio sometime – especially after something like the loss of an important game by the the local NFL team. Clearly, at least half the callers are drunk.