Donald Trump's long history of racism and sexism, predating his Presidency, is well-documented. His use of the Central Park Five to stoke fear in New Yorkers, his racist landlord practices, and his lewd and insulting statements about how women look have for decades reflected his bigoted heart and dark character. Similarly, Rush Limbaugh's country-altering pattern of sexist, racist, anti-LGBTQ rants, quips, and jokes reflect the worst of our people over many decades. As the Washington Post recently reported:
In some ways then, it was appropriate for a president known for fueling outrage, degrading opponents with insulting nicknames and putting on a show to award Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom. As Republicans gave him a standing ovation, Democrats sat in stony silence, appalled that someone who fueled bigotry and an incendiary media culture was receiving such an honor. The spectacle was the perfect embodiment of Limbaugh’s career and the politics, media — and president — he helped create.But this post is not about these two privileged, elitist, white hypocrites who claim to be working for the working class but in reality travel by private jet between luxury condos and mansions, living the lives of the rich, famous, and powerful. This post is about the enablers. And we can start with the national media.
The headline of the Washington Post column quoted above was, incredibly, "The Divisive Case for Giving Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom." Divisive is the same word several prominent law professors used on Twitter to respond to my outrage. Although a handful of op-eds were more pointed, something very important didn't happen over the course of the week. I could not find anyone on the right categorically criticizing this obvious Trumpian ploy to tell his base that racism, sexism, and obnoxious name-calling are not only tolerable but deserving of our country's highest civilian honor.
Here are just a few of Limbaugh's most famous examples of hate:
"Feminism was established so that ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream."
"The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies."
"If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, its caucasians.”
"Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos, what's to complain about?"
And these are only a small sample of Limbaugh's ugly and hateful statements over the years. Yet, from the right, whether we are talking about polit to icians, pundits, or even law professors, no serious (or maybe even any) negative reactions about the award. And that part of the story is the most important and the most depressing.
Every country has despicable social, cultural, and political figures who rise to power and fame through hate and division. Of course, Trump's base and Limbaugh's fans aren't all racists and sexists. But both men play to the worst aspects of their devotees. And the deafening sounds of silence from the more reasonable, less hateful, and non-sexist, non-racist conservatives in this country is actually a much larger problem than the overtly and openly racist and sexist tendencies of far too many Americans.
We could be living in a world where some on the right would have reacted to this fiasco along the following lines: "We support Donald Trump and his policies regarding judges, the economy, immigration, etc. We think Democrats and their policies are bad for America. But no person with Limbaugh's history of racism and sexism is deserving of American's highest civilian honor. The President giving him that honor is a direct slap in the face to women, people of color, and the traditionally disadvantaged."
Would that be so hard?
What conclusions can we draw from the virtually uniform silence on the right? The most depressing one would be that, in fact, more people agree with the racism and sexism of these two men than we would like to believe. But I think that is probably not the right lesson. I think it is more likely that sensitivity to these issues among people on the right is simply missing. They largely believe racism and sexism are relics of a past time, and people should stop bitching and moaning and just move on.
The criticism of so-called "identity politics" by the left, by a prominent, elite law professor, is an example of this attitude. The idea that it is wrong for Democrats to engage in "identity politics," and the explicit condemnation of such politics by a famous legal scholar, while Rush Limbaugh gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a reward for decades of pushing identity politics buttons in the most hateful of ways is almost more than one can bear.
America is nowhere near over its long history of racism and sexism ,which is why we still need formal policies to make up for our sorry past. The right's categorical dismissal of the need for affirmative action and other steps that could bring us closer to a society where character and talent really do matter much more than race and gender has never been more obviously proven wrong than with the events of this week. An entire political party celebrated a man who once told an African American woman radio caller to "take the bone out of your nose," and once called an engaged and responsible female Georgetown Law Student a "slut" for fighting for birth control. And the intelligentsia on the right, whether pundit, politician, or academic, said nothing. They are the enablers of American evil.