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What happened Tuesday night

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

While everyone has been lamenting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ripping up of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech as the ultimate display of partisanship and lack of civility, we seem to have forgotten who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom that same night.

Our president bestowed our nation’s highest civilian honor on a racist, sexist, misogynistic radio shock-jock, but for some reason the tearing of a piece of paper is evidence that partisanship has gone too far.

Let me provide you with a list of recipients of this same honor: Tom Hanks, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Norman Rockwell, Katharine Graham, Ellen DeGeneres, Hellen Keller and Father Ted Hesburgh. Now to join that list, Rush Limbaugh, the same man who devised the term “feminazi,” repeatedly referred to First Lady Michelle Obama as Michelle “My Butt” and said white people should carry no guilt or responsibility for American slavery as they are the ones who brought it to an end.

Trump bestowed the honor on Limbaugh during his State of the Union address, stating, “And, Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and that you inspire and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

With Trump’s remarks in mind, I struggle to pinpoint what Limbaugh has done for our nation that even comes close to matching the accomplishments of Hesburgh, or another honoree in the entertainment arena, such as Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres. Rather, he made a name for himself through shocking comments and degrading rhetoric that for some reason has earned him recognition as the voice of “new conservatism.”

This is a man who brought a world of hate down upon Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown who was blocked by Republicans from testifying in front the committee considering Conscience-Clause exemptions for the contraception mandate of the ACA. When news of this development broke and it was revealed that the only woman who was invited to testify on the mandate was blocked from the hearing, Limbaugh stated on his program: “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.”

I would hope for the sake of all American conservatives that his racist and misogynistic rhetoric falls far short of embodying contemporary conservative values. But rather than discrediting this monger of hate, it seems as though his claimed party has decided to embrace him. In that context, it is unsurprising Trump honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Even though there is definitely an initial shock reading through the history of Limbaugh’s commentary, what are members of the Republican party doing to separate themselves from this type of rhetoric? Instead, they gave him a standing ovation.

It is important to acknowledge that Limbaugh is battled advanced state lung cancer, and I wouldn’t wish this awful disease on anyone, but to use his diagnosis as defense against claims about his character is disingenuous. Everyone should be held accountable for their opinions and actions, and Limbaugh’s most certainly discredit him as someone deserving of a presidential honor.

This shocking example of the extremity of partisanship within our system has begged a larger question for me. Do our supposed standards of political decency carry any weight today?

In a way, what happened this past week isn’t outside the norm. While it is convenient for Republicans to lambast Pelosi’s action as the ultimate insult in order to draw attention away from the actions of their president and the vast majority of their party, we experienced similar unruly behavior during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

In 2009, while Obama was addressing a joint-session of Congress on the issue of healthcare, Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, interrupted his speech shouting “You lie!” The primary critic of Wilson’s actions was the now-late Senator John McCain.

It seems that we have found ourselves lost today in an era of partisanship so severe to crowd out any standard of decency. Is there anyone left willing to speak up against the despicable actions of those within their party? Maybe Senator Mitt Romney, but anyone else?

This made me ponder an even more frightening question, is there any value left in fake political decency? Do we gain anything as a nation when our elected officials pretend to get along or at the very least shake hands? Honestly, I don’t really know. I want to say yes and I want to see value in those types of interactions, but another part of me wishes we could just be honest about how far we have fallen. 

In 2020, we awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a man who referred to former First Lady Michelle Obama as “My Booty” Michelle. 

But apparently tearing up a few sheets of paper was the true affront to the American values of democracy and discourse. 

Jackie O’Brien is a Notre Dame senior studying political science and peace studies originally from the Chicago suburbs. When she’s not writing for Viewpoint, you can find her attempting to complete the NYT crossword, fretting over law school applications or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. She can be reached at [email protected] or @im_jackie_o on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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