What could I possibly say about Mr. Rush Limbaugh, the Spokesperson-in-Chief for the radical right, that has not been said before? We've long known him to be mean and nasty, right?
It is crucial, however, that we take our understanding of his poisonous persona a step further: He's not just mean, he is dangerously mean. He doesn't just try to hurt people's feelings, he loves to try to crush even the smallest bit of esteem, dignity, and worth he can get his teeth into.
Why is this dangerous?
First, the obvious: The outcome of his approach is to create intense polarization. The degree of the polarization he creates makes it impossible to reach any kind of solution to reconcile differences, let alone those wonderful surprise solutions that transcend the divide.
While Mr. Limbaugh is not the only public figure with a nasty commentary about those with whom he disagrees, he was among the first in today's extensive media era and has been the most successful. He has left his mark.
Polarization not only kills any real progress, it also seriously damages the bonds that tie us together as a nation. We are diverted from efforts to meet and solve the real problems we face on a global level: environmental crises, economic disasters, and more.
The second danger may sound strange because it often goes unrecognized. Like polarization, it is a product of his attitude of contempt, disgust, and scorn that he heaps his targets. The second outcome ultimately fuels violence.
"Violence?" you question. "Really, now isn't that taking it way too far?"
See the explanation "below the fold."
It is well-documented but (sadly) not well-known or understood that when someone feels shame, the natural response is rage. Shame is something we feel when we've been embarrassed by someone, belittled, put down, mocked, singled out for ridicule, don't fit in. The rage is an effort to restore self-esteem by showing power to those who did the shaming. (See experts like Gershin Kaufman and Silvan Tompkins.)
Shame draws its power from our species' roots. You are safe if you are in the group; you won't survive if you are rejected and cast out. So, in his universe, Limbaugh sets up and judges two worlds, primarily by what his world is not and those who are so awful that they are repulsive and beyond redemption.
Naturally, his audience feeds their self-esteem on his disgust of others. They can vicariously loath and hate all the world's incompetent, devious, clueless, cunning society destroyers, government leaches. Since the fans' feedings do not take root but instead vanish quickly, they have to keep returning. Clearly, any number of his fans seethe with hatred for those who have made them feel badly about themselves, at least from their perspective. Limbaugh's inflammatory words are like a fine mist of gasoline being pumped into a closed chamber. It does not take much of a spark to make it explode.
He's been doing this for about 30 years. He passed the 10,000-hour "expert" status long ago. He is the role model of the commentator who revels in nasty, degrading diatribes. He has been a huge factor in our nation's polarization that has resulted in vastly slowed progress (and many set backs) to improve the state of human society today. His seething contempt puts hatred and outright rage into our national atmosphere, setting the stage for open hatred and violence.
It is long past time for him to be turned away from any audience and pointed out as an example of someone who has caused far more harm than good, harm that has helped make the world a worse place to live and a more dangerous place to exist. This is not an issue of free speech any more than someone yelling "fire" in a theater when there is no fire.
Right now, the effort to banish him has been successful in getting a growing number of sponsors to cancel on him for his low-blow meanness. This is a case where shame is useful.
Getting him off the air permanently will no doubt be met with shame-driven outrage. He has postponed this well-earned shame for a very long time.