Yesterday, I drove up to Albany to meet an old friend. After spending the night, I returned this afternoon to Brooklyn. While driving, I sought entertainment through radio. The usual fare of FM was hard to snare: reception was often spotty–for whatever reason, the selections were uninspiring–a little too much emphasis on the Eagles methinks, and as usual, there were way too many commercials. After entertaining myself for a little while with the Hudson Valley’s WPDH, as I got closer to Albany, I found WGY on FM 103.1, ” a radio station licensed to Schenectady, New York and owned by iHeartMedia, Inc., broadcasting a news and conservative talk radio format.” On it, I heard Rush Limbaugh yesterday afternoon, and Glenn Beck this morning. It was, as might be expected, an edifying experience.
Here are some of my takeaways:
- Rush Limbaugh is most accurately analogized to an angry, blustering, bully, who imagines himself the leader of an insurrection; his broadcasting booth is the balcony of his palace. Glenn Beck imagines himself a deeply religious libertarian scholar of the constitution, one deeply steeped in the history of this nation, this “republic” (which might be his favorite word of all time), who also happens to be leading a folk movement to take back political power.
- Donald Trump is scared of no one but Rush Limbaugh. With great glee, Limbaugh played an “audio bite” of Trump responding to a reporter’s question about Limbaugh having described him as not being “a true conservative.” Trump’s response went roughly as follows: “I’ve heard that, and I just want to say that I respect Rush; he’s been great to me, and I have a lot of respect for him. I love him and I think he’s been great to me.” That’s all. Limbaugh played this clip at least four times, chortling on each occasion.
- Glenn Beck speaks with many, many, pauses for dramatic effect, all the better to let the portentousness of his pronouncements about “the republic,” the Constitution, “this nation’s founding fathers,” “self-evident truths,” and liberty sink in. This is a man who clearly thinks he is saying Very Important Things.
- Both Limbaugh and Beck agree, roughly, that this nation “is hanging by a thread,” that there is “a state of cultural decay,” that “we are headed for a dictatorship.” They also agree that the disdain of the Republican Party for the Trump candidacy is proof positive that the Trump is doing something right, that he, as Beck put it, might be “the one we’ve been waiting for.” (They both also breathe heavily into their microphones.)
- Limbaugh is definitely the more paranoid of the two: the Bernie Sanders candidacy is a conspiracy, stage managed by the Democrats to show that Hillary Clinton is a tough candidate, capable of riding out a tough primary challenge, and of dispelling any notions that she is merely placing the crown on her head. (Rush also thinks Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are bigots and racists for suggesting a boycott of this year’s Oscars.)
I did not just listen to a couple of radio shows; I traveled to distant lands. Sorry to sound like an anthropologist, but my sense of having encountered a distinct cultural formation was very acute.