You could say I was a Rush baby.
I listened to him almost from the start. At first, it annoyed me when members of my household tuned in. Gradually, though, it grew on me and I began enjoying listening on my own while in high school. A few years later, I was a politically-minded university student, active in the College Republicans, and frequent Limbaugh listener. I was that person who would listen to the show in her dorm room between classes.
After college, I naturally gravitated toward a strong interest in FOX News, watched O’Reilly and Sean Hannity regularly (back when Colmes was still on), and read their books. It was all so refreshing and inspiring. Slowly, though, I began to move away from their product – surface level hype – toward substantive, established conservatism. Instead of being a Republican, I’m a conservative who may happen to vote for GOP candidates if they are actually principled conservatives who deserve my support. This is not always the case.
More than ten years after my post-college GOP media infatuation, and in the shadow of Trump’s rise to political power, it is abundantly clear that too many Republican media types sell a cheap brand to their listeners, label it patriotism, and strongly chide the rest of us for not taking part. These snake oil salesmen/women and the environment they’ve created are a major part of the problem.
Though the Left is ridiculed for their group-think, the Right engages in similar behavior. Look no further than a candidate whose popularity is based just as much on charisma and word repetition as the outgoing president his followers love to hate. Donald Trump is an overnight Republican at best who relies upon his own brand of mockery to somehow make the case for a greater America. He likes to present himself as the exact opposite of good-natured Obama who preached hope and change. But their flimsy messages are more similar than not. “America? Could be much better. Who do you need? Me. Why? Well, we’ll iron out the details later.”
Donald Trump’s cheerleading squad includes angry Sean Hannity, screeching Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, the aforementioned Limbaugh, shrill Mark Levin (depending on what day it is), and others. I used to love many of these people (definitely not Coulter) for what I thought they were contributing to the cause from the Right side of the aisle. That admiration has long since passed.
Most frightening of all to ask: has this election year turned those we previously admired into something else entirely, or has it just exposed their true selves to the light? I lean toward the realization that they haven’t changed into something new, but that we’re suddenly realizing who they’ve always been.
It seems the 2016 version of the GOP actually bases itself around merely acting as the liberalism of 30 years ago. They appear to be saying the same things now as liberals were then, but presenting it as moderate and necessary for greatness to return. It’s all on the same trajectory, and thus, on the course that they’ve plotted, is only a matter of time before true conservatives are betrayed yet again.
Occupying a “neither/nor” space during this rather polarizing election makes it easy to look at both sides and point out their respective failings. Had I remained a Sean Hannity Republican, I may have guzzled the same Kool-Aid as the crowds at MAGA rallies. This means I would never dare question someone with an (R) next to their name, especially an anointed presidential candidate.
As Sean Hannity and other Republican pundits have shown, their loyalty is to party, not principle. That’s entirely the wrong attitude to have and one of the major reasons we ended with Trump. This default setting may draw in viewers and fill meeting halls with red hats, but what does it leave in its wake? A crowd of people who play follow the leader but convince themselves they’re part of a grand movement set to restore America. The problem is, they don’t have anything of conservative value to support. Unfortunately, many of them would rather have it this way and worship at the altar of persona, instead.