Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Rush Limbaugh is dead

Rush Limbaugh is dead, and according to social media I’m supposed to be happy.

Limbaugh was, at best, poison. A Rolling Stone piece posted earlier today was headlined RUSH LIMBAUGH DID HIS BEST TO RUIN AMERICA, and i don’t entirely disagree. Limbaugh was largely responsible for turning political disagreement into vile hate; into transforming “a guy whose opinions I don’t share” into “he wants to destroy our country.” Limbaugh was a vile man whose utterings on gays, blacks, foreigners, women, democrats … well, they were disgusting and gross and viciously impactful. People listened.

Millions of people listened.

But here’s the thing: I’m not celebrating Rush Limbaugh’s death. Nope. I’m actually devoting any of today’s Rush-related energies to trying to figure out how, exactly, this happened. How Rush became Rush and his brain (and heart) were overtaken by the impulses to attack, belittle, injure.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Limbaugh worked as the Kansas City Royals’ director of promotions. And he was, by myriad accounts, really nice, really agreeable and really good at his job. He was embraced by the franchise, and those who worked for the franchise—of all colors, of all nationalities. The back-in-the-day Limbaugh had a pep in his step; an instant warmth that radiated. And I’m not just spewing nonsense—over the course of researching a Bo Jackson book (my current project), Rush’s name has come up quite a bit. Always positively.

But the dream, apparently, was radio. Conservative radio, in support of his hero. Ronald Reagan. Which is fine. Four decades ago, it was this sorta mushy landscape where people spoke in sane tones, in reasoned sentences, in the way two normal humans dialogued when they disagreed agreeably.

What happened next—I have no idea.

Rush became RUSH. Larger-than-life. LOUD and BOLD and ANGRY and (worst of all) POPULAR. He spewed hate, and believed what he was saying. He fed off the anger, the disdain, the fire. And if some of his words weren’t true? Well, hey. It’s entertainment. Just entertainment.

I’m not happy Rush Limbaugh died. I’m more curious.

Why did this happen?