Rush Limbaugh: America’s Cultural Cancer

Sean Murphy
4 min readFeb 17, 2021


(*Author’s note: Equal parts infuriating and appalling (and, for our country, embarrassing) that this piece, written ELEVEN years ago, holds up. Indeed, that things have only become more obscene via Trump is pitiful. Good riddance to our least favorite cultural cancer; a hollow husk of a man who elevated projection and self-loathing to an exceedingly remunerative art-form. As I do when I consider his comrade in arms DJT, it gives me comfort to know that he very likely never knew a moment of peace, anything like joy, something that approximated generosity or compassion. His epitaph was written by Hawthorne almost two centuries ago: “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”)

Beneath contempt? Of course.

Shameless? Obviously.

A ludicrous, cowardly ass clown? Clearly.

A bullying blowhard? Yup.

A self-aggrandizing huckster who sells snake piss to imbelices and laughs all the way to his drug dealer? You know this.

Are we really surprised by his latest lowering of the bar?

I’m certainly not.

(Which isn’t to say I almost caught myself shaking my head, not quite in disbelief but in a kind of awed amusement: there he goes again. Seriously, when you not only live in the slimy detritus of talk-radio sewage, but make a (very remunerative) living doing so, there is literally no bottom, nowhere further to sink. Indeed, the gig almost necessitates a blind, ceaseless strain to burrow further and deeper, getting to darker places. In other words, Rush’s latest outrage is merely another day at the office.)

For centuries, Punch and Judy shows were all the rage (literally). Our appetite for self-destruction is neither new nor novel; we’ve been perfecting ways to taste the pain for as long as we’ve been upright (and before that we swung from trees throwing shit at each other; before that we crawled in the primordial ooze and threw up on one another). The closest thing we have to these spectacles today is Reality TV and Talk Radio. While some humiliation, desperation and a whole lot of narcissism makes the Reality TV carousel go round, there is an element of selfishness that cuts the inexorable humiliation. In other words, it’s an equal opportunity farce: it’s like gambling or playing the lottery, chances are decent you’ll gain nothing, and the rules could not be clearer. Talk radio, on the other hand (as has been discussed and documented many million times by critics more astute –and interested– than myself) is predicated upon an uneven playing field. The prophets of fury and despair (like so many religious hucksters) offer the illusion of solidarity to their disenfranchised followers. By preying upon their real (or affected) sense of dispossession, these self-declared saviors offer solace by validating the ignorance, prejudices and pains of their flock.

We see it with Limbaugh, we see it with Glenn Beck and we’ll see plenty more of it from Sarah Palin now that she has fulfilled her destiny by getting a platform on Fox News — the purest source of propaganda money can buy.

So what?

Should we protest (and play right into his hands) Limbaugh? Of course not, that will only empower him and augment the sanctimony of his shtick. It’s not often you can call someone a vampire and a whore at the same time, but more than anyone in modern times, Limbaugh is the worst possible combination of everything we despise in humanity. And here is the thing, unlike virtually all the other vermin who fatten their wallets by fomenting unrighteous indignation, there is not a single redeeming value in anything this clownish swine says or does. Nada.

But this was all abundantly obvious almost two full decades ago.

If you want to get fired up, if you really want to feel frightened, consider the fact that Rush’s ratings will skyrocket after today’s shitstorm. Think about that. And be truly mortified for where we are, as Americans. What is most repugnant, when you stop and contemplate it, is that there would be even a single person who might hear Limbaugh’s calculated and cynical hogwash and agree. Or, worse, feel inspired by the way their chosen one brings the hate. The plain, putrid reality is that there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who do. And will.

Just like there are tons of people who will walk over rusty glass for Sarah Palin. If Limbaugh or Palin were offering these people (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) anything –money, peace, progress, hope — it would just be politics as usual. Or as they used to say, That’s Entertainment.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing is being offered. And the worst part of the whole deal is that the most (superficially) faithful and dedicated believers are being sold a bill of goods that is straight-up nihilism. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

It is, and always has been, a game. Let’s stop laughing at it (or ignoring it) and start hating it back.



Sean Murphy

Executive Director, 1455, @1455LitArts. Avoiding quiet desperation by any means necessary