One of America’s most prominent racists just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Presidents have bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to some of America’s greatest writers, artists, entertainers, journalists, and humanitarians — from Toni Morrison to Ansel Adams to Edward R. Murrow to Betty Ford.

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave it to one of America’s most prominent racists.

During his State of the Union address, Trump looked to Rush Limbaugh, seated in the audience with Melania Trump, and thanked him for his contributions to American life.

“And Rush, in recognition of all you have done for our nation, the millions of people today that you speak to and that you inspire, and all of the incredible work you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight he will be receiving our country’s highest — you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor, the presidential medal of freedom.”

Republicans cheered.

John F. Kennedy established the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 to honor Americans who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Limbaugh, recently diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, has devoted his decades-long radio career to building an audience of millions of listeners with his brand of right-wing, xenophobic — and patently racist — populism that Trump borrowed on his rise to power.

Rush Limbaugh made millions off his brand of right-wing populism.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Limbaugh fills hours of airtime each week with hateful commentary directed at African Americans, Asian Americans, women, people with disabilities and pretty much anyone who is not white, straight and male.

One person he does like: Donald Trump. Limbaugh has supported Trump since he won the 2016 nomination and has largely stood by him. He’s had him on his show for soft-ball interviews more than once.

Limbaugh, like Trump, was a longtime birther. Trump was an early birther adopter and kept spreading the conspiracy nine months into his presidency.

Limbaugh’s racist rants continued beyond the 2008 election and started long before.

  • In 1990, Newsday reported that Limbaugh snapped at a black caller who confronted him, saying, “Take the bone out of your nose and call me back.” (Limbaugh denies he said this.)
  • In 2007, Limbaugh joked he was “singing a song in my head here during the break: ‘Barack, the Magic Negro, doo doo do doo.’”
  • In 2004, he suggested that professional basketball players were criminals: “You just gotta be who you are, and I think it’s time to get rid of this whole National Basketball Association. Call it the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call ’em gangs,” he said.
  • Three years later, Limbaugh described professional football players the same way. “Look, let me put it to you this way. The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”
  • In 2011, he mocked a speech by the president of China, saying on air, “Hu Jintao was just going, ‘Ching cha. Ching chang cho chow. Cha chow. Ching cho. Chi ba ba ba. Kwo kwa kwa kee.” Limbaugh continued this at length, then said, “Nobody was translating, but that’s the closest I can get.”
  • In 2016, Limbaugh claimed that Obama’s race “amplified malcontent operations like Black Lives Matter. It gave rise to a thugocracy, and nobody had the guts to speak out against it for fear of what would happen to them.”

The list of examples goes on and on.

Trump himself has made his own racist remarks and relied on race baiting throughout his career. From his entry into the presidential race — calling Mexicans “rapists” — to his many, many comments since about various groups, his presidency has been defined by racial animus. “I think they’re trouble. I think they’re looking for trouble,” Trump said of Black Lives Matters activists in a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly, echoing Limbaugh’s view.

It’s worth noting that beyond race, both men hold deeply held sexist views, too. Limbaugh once attacked a law student and health care advocate, Sandra Fluke, who was fighting to require health insurance providers to cover birth control. He called her a slut:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.

Trump has confronted women in public life similarly, as he did in describing Megyn Kelly as having “blood coming out of her wherever” or dismissing Christine Blasey Ford because “it doesn’t matter. We won.”

Both men recently made sexist, ableist attacks on teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has autism.

“So she’s out tweeting and politicizing, and she is free to lie and say whatever she wants to say about climate change and who’s responsible for it,” Limbaugh said. “And nobody is permitted to question her, you see, because she has — what did they call it? She is in the autism spectrum, so you can’t disagree, you can’t question, because she’s not well.”

Both men have become powerful through building up a base by putting down others. Now one is honoring the other. And there’s nothing meritorious about it.

Laura McGann Laura McGann Read More