Rush Ten Years Ago

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.

Thinking is a Many Splendored Thing

There is thinking like a historian:

we need to understand the past in all its fullness in order to make sense of the complexity of the human experience. I am largely talking here about the classroom, where I teach American history as if all voices matter. Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, Black lives matter. I am disgusted when I hear the political Right screaming “all lives matter” as a way of avoiding tough conversations on racial injustice, systemic racism, and the experience of African Americans. Responding to the phrase “black lives matter” with the phrase “all lives matter” represents a failure to address the pain and suffering of Black men and women in this particular moment. …

But when I teach history, especially when I do broad sweeps in a survey class, I am charged with telling the story of the United States. In this sense, my students must be exposed to all American lives. They must encounter these lives in their context, and in all their complexity, even if it makes them (and I am talking about white students and students of color here) uncomfortable. We can’t erase the past. We must confront it.

Only once students “understand their subjects thoroughly and empathically, there is a place for moral critique.” Thinking historically is understanding someone else, maybe even being ready to forgive, or withhold judgment.

This could be the gospel compared to the law of thinking like a Christian. When you do that you pretty much go into righteous indignation (as in “they will know we are Christians by what we condemn”):

It does seem that one can be morally correct about a particular social cause, and still respond to such a matter in a manner defined by “pure and unmitigated hate.” I struggle with this on a daily basis as I write about Donald Trump. I have had to do a lot of confessing of sins in the last four years and have tried to distinguish between a legitimate, Christian-based, critique of Trump and his court evangelicals and the kind of angry rhetoric that is not good for my spiritual life or the spiritual lives of others. I have found that prayer–for Donald Trump and his administration, for the evangelical church, and for the best way to strike an appropriate prophetic voice– is often an antidote to this kind of anger. But I’m not always good at it.

Neither of these ways of think is political (Bill McClay on vandalism):

the most disturbing aspect of this episode, which perhaps indicates how deep our societal rot goes, has less to do with the rioters than with those in positions of authority. Rioters and miscreants we will always have, but that is why we have authorities. Ours, however, seem to have utterly abdicated. In city after city, mayors and governors decline to act against vandals, the police stand down, and the devil is allowed to take the hindmost. Corporations fall over themselves to advertise their virtuousness, and give what looks very much like protection money to organizations whose goals are openly subversive of the fundamental American political and social order.

Almost thirty years of integrating faith and learning and Christians still struggle with thought.