The other day, depressed with the number of people I saw expressing sheer joy at the death of Rush Limbaugh, I put up a Facebook post:
In response, people proceeded to inform me, as if I didn’t know, what Limbaugh’s odious political and personal opinions really were, with some adding me that it was really okay to celebrate. (Nobody unfriended me.) After all, his existence was a net minus for the world’s welfare—something I’m prepared to believe—so why not gambol with glee when he died? (Let me note that he died of lung cancer, and it was probably a pretty horrible way to go.)
And, as Frank Bruni notes in his New York Times op-ed below (expressing a view similar to mine), the celebrations were not only widespread, but pretty mean-spirited:
“BIGOT, MISOGYNIST, HOMOPHOBE, CRANK: RUSH LIMBAUGH DEAD.” Those were the words, capitalized and adrenalized, that HuffPost splashed across its home page. Several other left-leaning sites took the same tack and tone.
Of course, they were positively restrained in comparison with Twitter, which is basically talk radio’s less windy bastard child. “Rest in piss” had currency there. The F word, followed immediately by Limbaugh’s name, was taken out for a spin. There was speculation that Limbaugh had gone to a very hot place reputed to have nine circles and a red, horned ruler. There was wishing that he would rot there. One tweet said that Limbaugh “brought a lot of people a lot of joy by dying.” It was liked by more than 35,000 of the morbidly contented. I don’t begrudge them their relief that he’s no longer ranting. But is that really what they want to lavish a cute little heart symbol on?
Not for me. While I don’t mourn the absence of Limbaugh from the scene, celebrating it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t join the chorus of glee, and yet I didn’t understand why. I didn’t feel that I was superior to those who were celebrating (yes, it was mean-spirited, but I can be, too), but something in me baulked at expressing the verbal equivalent of heart symbols.
Part of it was that Limbaugh’s wife was on the news, clearly distraught, and she loved him, as other members of his family must have. So some people are more heartbroken than we are gleeful. And I’m a conscientious objector, which I think has made me wary of celebrating anybody’s death, even an enemy’s.
But most of all, I suppose, I realize how much every human values their own lives. Evolution has instilled strong instincts for self-preservation in us, and few can face a terminal diagnosis with equanimity. Limbaugh himself must have gone through unspeakable mental and physical torments after his diagnosis and before his death. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, and it’s hard for me to look at that and laugh.
Yes, he might have had a negative effect on the world, but there are many people you can say that about. Not just Trump, but, as I think from comments by some on this site, almost every Republican, from Mitch McConnell to Ted Cruz on down, could be described as having a net negative effect on the world. Even regular people, if they engage in stuff like killing animals for fur or evicting poor people from their homes, might create, through their existence, a net loss in “well being”, however you measure that. If having a net negative effect on the world is the criterion for celebrating someone’s death, then we should constantly be celebrating.
And yet, like Bruni, I think it erodes one’s character to engage in that kind of hate, and I think it’s eroded both Democrats and Republicans over the past four years to engage in the kind of demonization that led to the celebration of Limbaugh’s death. What doesn’t erode one’s character is a measured yet highly negative take on Limbaugh’s legacy, which both Bruni and Andrew Sullivan (below; click on screenshot) offer.
Bruni extols the New York Times‘s own obituary of Limbaugh as the way it should be done:
He earned it. If you’re going to fling your opinions at the world, you must be braced for the world to fling its reaction back at you. Those are the terms of the contract.
And it would be journalistic malpractice and morally wrong to publish obituaries about Limbaugh that merely noted his role in the rise of talk radio and his adoration by millions of listeners. Those appraisals were obliged, for the sake of history and accuracy, to note and be reasonably blunt about how he used his format, what listeners were thrilling to and what impact it had on the country’s political culture.
The Times’s obituary did precisely that. I don’t always agree with the approach and decisions of the news organization that employs me and have never felt any pressure to play cheerleader for it, but I think it handled Limbaugh’s death expertly.