Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh joined the likes of Rosa Parks and Mr. Rogers on Tuesday, when U.S. President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to the man who once called Barack Obama a “magic negro.”
Trump hailed Limbaugh as “someone beloved by millions of Americans” during his State of the Union address, before first lady Melania Trump presented the radio host with America’s highest civilian honour in the middle of the speech.
Twitter users were quick to point out the long record of hateful, bigoted, racist and conspiracy theory-laden remarks Limbaugh has peddled on his radio show over the years. They also did not forget that Limbaugh has called for President Trump’s political enemies to be locked up for investigating his conduct.
“Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom last night to a propagandist,” user @ThePubliusUSA tweeted after the State of the Union. “A man who has peddled bigotry, misogyny, racism and hate for decades. It is utterly disgraceful.”
Limbaugh, 69, is widely credited as key to the Republicans’ takeover of Congress in 1994. He has strongly supported many Republicans, including Trump, who often quotes him straight from his Fox News appearances. Trump appears to be particularly fond of Limbaugh’s attacks on his enemies.
“These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail,” Trump quoted Limbaugh as saying last February, in the midst of the Mueller Investigation.
Limbaugh has frequently been accused of using his radio show to spread hate-speech and false conspiracy theories, including one of Trump’s favourites: the false “birther” claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
Limbaugh also infamously played a parody song on his show in 2007, called Barack the Magic Negro. The lyrics in the song claim that Obama “makes guilty whites feel good,” and refer to the then-presidential candidate as “Black, but not authentically.”
The radio host has mock-quoted China’s former president as saying “Ching cha, ching chang cho chow.” He has referred to the NBA as the “Thug Basketball Association” and its teams as “gangs.” He suggested Chelsea Clinton was a dog when she was 12. He also mocked Canadian actor Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease.
Limbaugh has also espoused anti-scientific rhetoric, including the false claim that smoking is harmless to a person’s health.
“Firsthand smoke takes 50 years to kill people, if it does,” Limbaugh said in 2015. “Not everybody that smokes gets cancer.”
He added that smokers should be celebrated because, he claimed, the tax on tobacco sales goes toward “children’s health programs.”
“I would like a medal for smoking cigars, is what I’m saying,” Limbaugh said in 2015.
Limbaugh announced earlier this week that he will step away from his radio show to seek treatment for advanced lung cancer.
Trump cited Limbaugh’s lung cancer diagnosis when he awarded him the medal on Tuesday.
The medal is the highest civilian honour in the United States, and the White House says it’s meant to recognize people who “have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours.”
Past recipients have included Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates, Walter Cronkite and Colin Powell (twice).
Trump handed out several Medals of Freedom to sports stars last year, including Tiger Woods, Mariano Rivera, Jerry West and Bob Cousy. He also posthumously recognized Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and Antonin Scalia, the late conservative Justice of the Supreme Court.
Trump supporters celebrated Limbaugh’s award on Tuesday night. They also took issue with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who tore up the president’s written speech after it was over.
“Pelosi and her corrupt-hate filled Democrats can’t even stand for a man fighting stage 4 cancer,” Trump’s lawyer and sometimes-helper, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted. “No one deserves the Medal of Freedom more than Rush Limbaugh.”
Others pointed out the apparent contradiction of attacking Pelosi for destroying Trump’s speech while applauding Limbaugh for decades of divisive rhetoric.