A three minute journey into the conservative id

February 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2016

Every four years or so, as America prepares to select a president, I become morbidly fascinated with Rush Limbaugh. Despite a reported decline in Limbaugh’s audience, he still has the largest listenership of any talk-radio program, and he’s topped an industry magazine’s list of the most influential hosts for nine years running.

Perhaps more than any other individual, Limbaugh is responsible for shaping the modern political zeitgeist, in which “bipartisan” is regarded as a dirty word and the act of compromising is roughly on par with knifing an ally in the back.

I think El Rushbo is despicable, but I nonetheless recognize why he has been so influential. He’s intelligent, he has a great voice, he’s personable, he has a natural instinct for investing mundane acts of governance and news reporting with great drama, and he’s willing to say virtually anything to get his audience’s blood pumping.

He is also strangely comforting, despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that he is wont to depict nearly every occurrence in politics, governance and culture as a Manichean clash between the forces of light and or darkness. Tune in today and listen to Limbaugh’s program for a few minutes and he will likely touch upon one of the themes that you heard him talk about five days ago, or five weeks ago, or five years ago. He’ll likely still be discussing different topics in the same fashion five days from now, and five weeks from, and five months from now, and quite likely five years from now.

So it was with some amusement that I impulsively turned on my car radio during a short drive and heard, well, the same old stuff.

I came in at the end of a segment, and I barely had any idea what he was talking about, although it apparently involved the coarsening of discourse. I think he was referring to former Mexico President Vincente Fox declaring that his nation would not pay for “that fucking wall” that Donald Trump intends to build on the southern border of the United States; he may also have been referring to a Feb. 8 rally at which Trump, echoing a woman in the audience, called U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz a “pussy.”

Update: According to a transcript on his website, Limbaugh was indeed talking about Fox’s epithet-laden riposte to Trump. (It’s a testament to Limbaugh said the following (emphasis mine):

There’s an all-out assault on our dominant culture. There has been for years, and the assault is winning. It’s working. I was watching Fox this morning, and there were people complaining about all the swearing that’s going on now.

They talk about Vicente Fox. He’s dropping the F-bomb, talking about Trump and building the wall. And people on Fox and people on Fox said, “I don’t remember world leaders ever talking that way before. George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, they never talked that way.” That’s true. Not publicly. Privately, they did. Don’t doubt me. But publicly they didn’t.

Here’s Vicente Fox. “We not gonna pay for that f-ing wall!” And then Trump responds by basically saying “f-ing” again, and then condemning it and so forth. But it’s out there. And it is changing. There is all kinds of changing rhetoric and stature and deportment, comportment. And it seems like everything’s crumbling out there.

{My original post continues…}

But, rather wonderfully, the subject of Limbaugh’s diatribe was almost incidental to the things he was saying. These quotations may not be exact, but he said something like, “There’s an all-out assault on our dominant culture, there has been for years…”

Limbaugh added that the assaulting forces were winning, saying something to the effect that standards of decency were being eroded. He then said something to the effect of everything is crumbling around us.

Cut to commercial break.

The first advertisement almost immediately raised the specter of a disaster that cut off food supplies and said that typical grocery stores only stock enough for three days. How will your family fare in the food riots? the narrator asked ominously before segueing into his pitch: You won’t need to fight for sustenance if you buy our emergency food supplies, which can last for 25 years!

The second ad was for a prostate supplement that enables users to sleep throughout the night and to enjoy increased virility. The third ad was for a well-known company that monitors for signs of identity theft; I think that it raised the specter of economic collapse.

I was only making a short drive, as I said, and so I couldn’t take notes on any of this. (However, I have updated will try to update this post with exact quotes from the transcript or audio that typically gets posted on Limbaugh’s website within a day or so of his broadcast. This applies to program content only, not to advertising.)

Still, over a period of three minutes or so, I felt like I got a view directly into the heart of the American conservative’s id. He knows his dominance, once unquestioned, is now under assault; he senses that society is crumbling around him; he needs to prepare for the worst, to restore his virility, to protect himself and his family.

There was a line in the long-lasting food supply spot that made me smile, although surely not for the reasons the advertiser intended. The narrator said something along the lines of, With {redacted} supplies, you and your family can be good for 25 years.

In truth, and by design, that peace of mind will be short-lived: Even as you pay off one advertiser, Limbaugh and his commercial sponsors and like-minded media are working around the clock to gin up fear and outrage over some other topic. Do you already have an archival-quality food stock? Then invest in silver coins so you’ll have assets that will retain their value during the coming clash! Remember, Obama is going to get you. And al Qaeda is coming for you — ISIS, too! And don’t forget to watch out for the IRS, the EPA and those sinister dark-skinned people you see more of around town these days…

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard purveyors of firearms or ammunition hawk their wares on the programs of Limbaugh and his fellow conservative talk-show hosts, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, but clearly the gun industry thrives on frightening current and potential customers.

In a way, I hate to single out Limbaugh, or even conservative media in general, because liberal-leaning media are certainly guilty of trying to alarm their audiences. (Granted, out-and-out liberal media organizations are far less prominent and successful than outlets with conservative slants.) But it sure seems as if fear-mongering is not just a tactic but the whole raison d’être of Limbaugh and his compatriots.

Author’s note: On March 2, 2016, I edited one paragraph in this post in order to clarify its meaning. Deleted words are indicated by strikethrough text, like so; added words are indicated by boldface text, like so. A new passage, mainly consisting of an excerpt of a transcript from Rush Limbaugh’s website, was also added on the 2nd; this insert is indicated in the body of the post. MEM

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