It’s hard to convey with words the raw emotions I felt, turbulent and disturbing, that flowed through my veins as I heard the news. My girlfriend looked up from her phone with widened eyes and her jaw lowered in astonishment. She was visibly upset and I was about to find out why. “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is lowering the American flags to half-mast today in honor of Rush Limbaugh,” she said. I instantly found myself speechless.
Rush Limbaugh? Really?
I wondered. My heart sank.
We didn’t even need to say anything to one another. It was like we could read one another’s minds. We each knew how flagrantly offensive this must be to Black people all over the nation, let alone just our home state. For those who don’t know, Americans fly the flag at half-mast to pay homage to important figures who pass away. It’s a way for the State to show respect to someone who played an important role in our politics. And that’s precisely the problem.
What important role in our lives did Rush Limbaugh play? He amassed an army of followers with thoroughly racist messages. In response to Barack Obama’s presidency, he said that we should go back to segregated busses. He mockingly called Obama a “Halfrican American” and he said that Liberals and Conservatives couldn’t coexist peacefully.
If Trump was responsible for the devastating riots on January 6th, Rush Limbaugh — and Alex Jones — were responsible for the rise of Trump. Each of them fertilized the soil from which Trumpism grew. Their rhetoric nurtured the infantile seeds of the conspiracy theories that forged the solid roots of the Trump tree. Without those two men, Trump would’ve likely remained a nobody, absent a Republican base that had been fed messages of hate, outrage, and discontent for years prior to Trump’s announcement of his presidential bid in 2015.
Flashback to Birtherism
Limbaugh and Trump together forged the birtherism narrative, the conspiratorial lie that Obama was born in Kenya — and not America — thus rendering him ineligible for the Presidency. Never mind the fact that we’ve already had a foreign-born president from 1881 to 1885 and the nation didn’t fall apart.
The purpose of the narrative was two-fold. It was to question Obama’s presidential legitimacy, just like they’re doing now with Biden and the #StoptheSteal movement. But it was also to remind every racist in every nook and cranny in America that Obama was, in fact, a black man.
And by pushing the narrative constantly, streaming it through the airwaves in the case of Rush Limbaugh, and riddling Twitter with it in the case of Trump, they were able to so the seeds of white grievance politics that’s caused so much strife in our nation over the last decade.
You see, the point wasn’t to emphasize the foreign-born part so much as the African part. He knew that would dial up the outrage of rabid racists all over the country. The point was to say what he needed to say without saying it. He didn’t say that Barack Obama was inferior because he’s an African. Instead, he said that Obama had “more African roots than American,” and he left it up to his listeners to put the pieces together.
Limbaugh: A Symbol of Something Deeper
He said what moderate Republicans only thought. And he said it out loud. That’s why his radio show was such a hit. It was a way for people to dip their toes into the waters of racism without having to commit themselves to their own outward expression of it.
They didn’t need to wear the flag or drape the banner across themselves, no, the soil wasn’t quite rich enough for that yet — the environment wasn’t quite ripe enough for MAGA yet. All they needed to do was tune in and listen to the ravings of a madman telling them that we needed conflict, that other races were inferior, and that his listeners — presumably white Republicans — were superior.
If that’s not white supremacy, what is?
And now here comes the crux of the argument. The fact is, Ron DeSantis behaves quite like a moderate. He’s not one of the Ted Cruz figures or Lindsey Graham figures of the Republican Party, spewing inflammatory rhetoric out of his mouth all day. He’s not a showman. He’s quiet in his racism.
In fact, as a resident, I supported a lot of his COVID-19 decisions in the early days. I felt like he was coming from a place of common sense and decency.
But this? This is beyond the pale.
Indulging a Predominantly Racist Base?
DeSantis is probably thinking of his 2022 re-election campaign for governor and knows that a dog whistle to the radical racists among the Florida base is the perfect way to solidify re-election.
But this just goes to show you why there cannot be such a thing as a “moderate” Republican. When you’re enlisted in the part of current and historical racism, you have to appeal to racists to get votes. There’s nothing moderate about that.
And don’t tell me that Rush Limbaugh isn’t racist. I’ve seen a lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater by disingenuous white people who say that because certain people on Twitter call everything racist, that must mean that they’re all wrong and nothing is racist. I don’t have time for that kind of intellectual dishonesty.
If there ever was a racist talk-show host in the last 50 years in America, Rush Limbaugh is the guy. And now, within one year, he’s been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump and had the flags flown at half-mast by DeSantis.
You see, Moderate Republicans are either racists who know how to keep quiet and dog whistle, or they’re not personally racists and they’re forced to become racists in order to appeal to the racist elements in the Republican base. There’s no way around it.
Let’s not forget Mitt Romney’s statements back in 2012, when he said that 47% of the population cast themselves as victims and were asking for government handouts. He also said it’s not his (or Republicans’) responsibility to take care of those people. Who do you think he was talking about? What do you think he was signaling to the Republican base?
The Economics of Racism
It’s only February, but I sense the new book by Heather McGhee titled The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together is going to be the best book I read this year.
In it, McGhee traces the history of Republican ideas like low taxation, privatization, and their general disgust for public works back from the end of the Jim Crow Era in America and explores how much racism has fueled the ideology of the party.
Once federal civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, discrimination was no longer legal. Jim Crow was abolished. Segregation was outlawed.
At the time, there were public pools everywhere in America, pools where families’ children went and swam on hot summer days and enjoyed themselves as kids do. But once segregation wasn’t allowed anymore — once they could no longer separate the pools into “blacks only” and “whites only” pools, something astonishing happened.
Mostly-white voters in mostly-white towns, especially rural areas, opted to shut down the pools. They decided not to invest their tax dollars in public pools anymore. Suddenly, they didn’t have the money.
And even more insulting, they filled in the public pools with concrete so they could no longer be used. “Better to have no pool than to share my pool with black people.” The message couldn’t have been more obvious.
In the decade leading up to civil rights legislation being passed, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower created the interstate highway system that was a massive spending and public works project. Republicans didn’t become afraid of taxes and spending until the money went to black people and people of color. One could even argue, as McGhee has compellingly, that even statements like “low taxation” and “small government” are really dog whistles in themselves.
And a quick conversation with almost anyone in the Republican base confirms this. Nobody cares
And let’s not forget about “religious freedom” which is used more often than not to discriminate than to uplift and unify.
Questions and Conclusions
It’s crazy, isn’t it? How it all comes together so nicely once we understand how to put the pieces together. And all of this raises some really important questions. First and foremost, if it is true that depriving government spending and fighting for religious liberty will help racists all over to discriminate, does that make someone who wasn’t in on the plan complicit?
In other words, can someone be racist without knowing they’re being racist?
The answer to this question will lead us to another. Does that mean the whole Republican Party is racist? While my logic says yes, my heart says no. I still fight it. I still don’t want to believe it. I have a really hard time lumping entire groups of people as diverse as can be under one blanket umbrella.
But then again, if someone works for a multinational corporation that pollutes, and one furthers the aims of that corporation, aims that directly result in more pollution, isn’t that person at least a little bit complicit in spreading pollution around the globe?
Again, my logic tells me, yes but my heart tells me no.
I can’t look at Ron DeSantis the same ever again. He paid homage to one of the most racist people among us, and even if I’m being cynical and writing it off as something he’s just doing to get votes, he’s still furthering the agenda of racists all over Florida. Or at least he’s signaling that he’s going to.
Meanwhile, I think we ought to fly the flags half-mast in honor of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
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Full disclosure: this story contains affiliate links. I make a small commission through these links. Heather McGee’s book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together can be found here on Amazon.