Rush Limbaugh, arguably the one person most responsible for the current horrid state of American political discourse, has died, leaving behind a vile legacy.

Limbaugh’s radio show, which reached millions of listeners and made him a multi-millionaire, was the gateway drug that led a huge swath of America into an addiction to crazed conspiracy theories and right-wing extremism. The mob that ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 may have been instigated by Donald Trump, but those marauders were inspired and indoctrinated through years of listening to Limbaugh’s caustic tirades against liberals, the mainstream media, Hollywood, big government and any Republican who dared compromise with a Democrat.

Until Limbaugh’s rise to influence and celebrity in the 1980s, the voices of American conservatism were sober commentators like George Will, William F. Buckley and the writers at National Review, who set a high intellectual tone in their arguments. Limbaugh, a college dropout disc jockey, was clever enough to perceive that inflaming people’s emotions was far more effective than appealing to their brains. He pummeled his targets with insults, demonization, wild exaggeration, belittling humor and unrelenting partisanship – and listeners loved it. Day after day, he provoked their fear, paranoia and rage with his screeds, most of them based on a concocted fantasy of malevolent left-wing forces conspiring to destroy the American way of life.

Limbaugh was the leading spokesman of a new, belligerent conservatism. His vituperative rhetorical style was copied not only by a burgeoning crop of right wing talking heads on radio and TV, such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, but also by a new generation of Republican senators and congressmen. His influence reshaped the Republican Party and paved the way for the rise of Trump. 

Limbaugh is gone now, but we are stuck living in the debased, toxic political environment spun from his hectoring voice.

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