Bad People Dying is a Good Thing, Actually
The liberal instinct to be civil toward horrible people is misguided and dangerous
If you haven’t heard the news, AM radio pioneer, conservative media icon, and spectacularly destructive racist and bigot Rush Limbaugh has died at the age of 70. He spent his career aggressively promoting cultural division on social issues, at times suggesting that marriage equality would lead to bestiality and once running a segment that mocked gay people dying of the AIDS virus.
A world without such a presence is better off. There are people who spend their lives profiting from efforts to undermine society’s ability to grow into a rational space where human well-being can flourish. The spread of the worst beliefs — racism, sexism, fascism, sexual discrimination, neurological discrimination, and so on — these don’t begin and end with the average people who hold them. These ideas proliferate, in part, because of the influential people who breathe life into them using platforms that have built-in credibility. That platform could be a radio show, a podcast, a YouTube channel, a popular newspaper — hell, it could be the presidency. Does the U.S. capitol riot happen without President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about a fraudulent election?
And when it comes to electoral politics in a country supposedly intended to be a representative democracy, its effectiveness is partially dependent upon the understanding and worldview of the electorate. Governance and legislation in the United States are vehicles for class warfare. If you’re a wage earner who roots for the health and well-being of people who are corrosive to our liberation, you’re being a class traitor. If you’re a member of a marginalized community doing the same, even if it’s in the name of “being better than them,” you need to realize that you’re contributing to these oppressive structures.
When it comes to this character of conflict, politeness doesn’t make you a good guy. It makes you a dupe.
Celebrating the death of an awful human being like Rush Limbaugh doesn’t make you “as bad as he was,” a phrase I read verbatim from a liberal’s Facebook comment earlier today. The liberal compulsion to focus on tone policing, politeness, and the avoidance of appearing crass is an expression of confusion over the nature of political conflict. It’s also frequently an expression of privilege since it so often comes from upper-to-middle class liberals who don’t bear the brunt of class antagonism in America. This stance gives space for horrible people who profit from needless suffering to slither about society, allows them to popularize their atrocious views so long as they’re being sufficiently indirect about the outcomes. It says to those people, “Don’t worry, we won’t be mean to you.”
When it comes to this character of conflict, politeness doesn’t make you a good guy. It makes you a dupe. When bad people die, celebrate the bit of relief achieved, the tiny step of progress realized for the world. Niceness in a vacuum might be a virtue, but in the context of the very real world with very real suffering, niceness aimed at monstrous people only hurts marginalized communities.
Some people got really excited when Michelle Obama famously said “When they go low, we go high.” On November 4th, Joe Biden tweeted that “To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies. We are not enemies.” But this feeble attitude toward the incredible threats of incendiary xenophobia and rising fascist sentiment is fertile ground for the continued degradation of the United States. If you’re an ally of progress — and not just the symbolic faux-progress embodied by the Democratic Party’s brand of politics — you need to realize that Limbaugh-types are not your friends, even in death. They’re not fighting for a vision of America that allows poor people and other marginalized communities to breathe easy. They aren’t to be mourned, and there is no virtue in making space for them out of a misplaced sense of civility.
Look around you. Look at the lack of pandemic relief for Americans, at the unwillingness to deliver justice for Breonna Taylor, at the ever-intensifying trends of income inequality, at the masses crippled by medical and student loan debt. Look at the caged migrant children, at the victims of imperialism abroad, at the marginalized indigenous communities, at the violence and hate aimed at our transgender comrades. Civility for the oppressed has been long dead and was never mourned. It’s time to let go of civility. It’s time to take up solidarity instead.