During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was given a special invitation to the speech in the wake of his recently announced diagnosis of lung cancer.
In doing so, Trump conferred one of the nation’s great civilian honors upon a man who has trafficked in hate and is responsible for some of the most vile degradations of the nation’s political discourse. Limbaugh’s history makes it all the more ironic that the medal and ribbon were conferred upon him on the spot by first lady Melania Trump, who heads up the purported “Be Best” initiative.
During a series of public appearances he called the “Rush to Excellence Tour,” from 1989 to 1991, Limbaugh joked about AIDS and suicide, among other subjects, and declared that “feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream.” Starting in the 1990s, he began referring to feminists as “feminazis,” and he’s also regularly referred to prominent women as “babes.” He also attempted to popularize a term, the “new castrati,” for “men with no guts who have just been bullied by women and the power structure and liberalism in general.”
On his short-lived TV show in the 1990s, Limbaugh compared 12-year-old presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton to a dog and sarcastically apologized for having previously called Amy Carter, daughter of President Jimmy Carter, “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.”
Limbaugh’s history of racist invective includes him saying, “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons” and dismissing the suffering of Native Americans by claiming, “‘Holocaust?’ Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what's to complain about?”
He has also frequently mocked human suffering, ranging from victims of natural disasters to those living in extreme poverty.
In October 2006, when actor Michael J. Fox recorded a series of political ads endorsing candidates in the midterm elections who supported stem cell research, Limbaugh mocked Fox’s physical shaking from Parkinson’s disease and accused him of “exaggerating the effects of the disease.” He continued: “He is moving all around and shaking. And it's purely an act. ... Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two.” (Limbaugh revisited this topic just recently, saying that Democrats “go out and they find disabled people” like Fox or teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.)
Limbaugh also referred to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a “Hafrican American,” and played a mocking song called “Barack the Magic Negro.” Barely nine months in the Obama presidency, Limbaugh declared, “In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering.” In 2011, he accused then-first lady Michelle Obama of “uppity-ism,” and he also promoted a conspiracy theory that “race riots are part of the plan that this regime has.”
Indeed, there were many other conspiracy theories that Limbaugh has promoted in his career, including one about the death of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster. He also claimed that Obama might cancel the 2012 elections or that Obama was both an “African Colonial” or an anti-colonialist (both of which were bad). In 2018, he suggested that mass shootings in New Zealand might have been a false flag attack to smear conservatives. (On that subject, he also alleged, “The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote Democrat when you get right down to it, if they vote.”) He also suggested that Al Qaeda may have given up Osama Bin Laden “for the express purpose of making Obama look good.”
Limbaugh bled advertisers after his sustained sexist attacks on then-law student Sandra Fluke in early 2012 who had testified before a congressional committee about the impact of new health care regulations on expanding contraception coverage.
In October 2016, in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging back in 2005 about sexually assaulting women, Limbaugh came to the Republican nominee’s defense, declaring, “If the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police.”
In a truly dangerous act in September 2017, Limbaugh publicly dismissed the safety warnings from government officials about Hurricane Irma. “The reason that I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks, is because I see how the system works,” he said, going on to explain: “So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic.”
Limbaugh’s attacks against immigrant communities are prolific. In 2019 alone, he said that “the Democrat party has imported the third world into this country and they have not assimilated,” compared asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy, and quipped that “maybe toilet water is a step up for” some migrants.
Oh, yeah, he was also a birther.