If you’re a showman – and Rush was that above all else – they say that it’s best to go out on top. And he did, just at the moment when it became apparent that the approach to politics that he championed his whole life won’t be enough to save us; that superior arguments won’t win the day and that we’re not going to vote our way out of this. That he left the stage at precisely the right point so it could honestly be said that he never became irrelevant is perhaps the one small consolation that can be found within this. The future will always be able to look back on him and say: “He was a man of his time”. Yes, his time has passed, as it does for all men. But if we are to look back now and evaluate what he meant, it can only fairly be in the context of those times.
A common sentiment heard from callers in the early days of Rush’s show was that before they found him, they had no idea that anyone out there thought the same way they did. This shows how powerful the left’s stranglehold on public discourse was back then, and the importance of his having singlehandedly broken it. Causing one’s enemy to feel isolated, alone, and out-of-step with the society around them is a powerful weapon of demoralization, and breaking through that to offer a sense of community, even if only through the airwaves, is massively empowering. Beyond this, Rush brought a sense of fun to being on the right, perhaps for the first time ever. He mocked liberals at a time when it was assumed by all that this was a tool to which liberals alone had exclusive rights. He laughed at them, and his audience laughed along with him. This is a deeply underestimated strategy – people like to laugh; they like to have fun. It is something that the left has forgotten in the age of the dour, hectoring SJW. It is something that, other than at the height of the Meme Era that surrounded Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, the modern right forgets all too often as well. But it should never be overlooked, and very much of Rush’s success and his political and cultural impact relied on the fact that he didn’t. Perhaps most importantly, he never backed down from his beliefs; he never seemed ashamed of them or felt the need to qualify them with endless disclaimers explaining how he was really a good person despite them. Simply being confident and proud in those beliefs inspired millions of others to do the same.
Of course, he couldn’t ever have gone with us as far as it now seems that we’ll need to go. But this was not a symptom of any lack of courage; it was only a reflection of the hold that the America in which he was born had on him, and of how far we have fallen from it in just one lifetime. To the end, Rush was a genuine “Shining City on a Hill” believer; the kind that not only thought that America was unreservedly good at its core, but that its empire was the only thing keeping the world from falling into tyranny and chaos. That’s a belief that most of us on this end of the right, if we ever held it at all, gave up on around 2006, but that seemed manifestly true for someone who grew up in a stable, prosperous America in the years directly following World War II, and whose only frame of reference was the comparison to Nazism or Communism. Even his support for the disastrous wars of the Bush era, which continued long after it was obvious that they had been a terrible mistake (this was the only point at which I found his show unlistenable, and had to take some time away from it) were based in an unshakable faith that the American way of life was the best in the world, and that everyone would want to live that way if they were only given a chance to. There is a temptation for a man of today’s Dissident Right to sneer at this, and in a 21st century context, it might be justified, but it also must be remembered that the America that Rush had in mind was eternally a vision of the 1954 of his youth; a better place that you and I have never had the privilege to see. Had we seen it for ourselves, we might find it just as hard to let go of as he did.
Rush could understand that his country wasn’t what it used to be, but couldn’t allow himself to believe that it would never again be what it had once been. That’s a dream that can only die hard; one that anyone would hold onto for as long as they could. It only really became undeniable that it was gone for good in the very closing moments of his life, and it is perhaps for the best that he essentially died with it. In a way, I wish he hadn’t been here to see the past few months, and in a way, I’m happy he won’t be here to see what comes next. It would break his heart. It breaks mine. I would love to have personally seen the Shining City that he saw, and would love to believe that it can be restored someday. But just as he was a man of a time that I never could live in, I must be a man of a time that he cannot live in, and I must face its realities.
A guaranteed stinkeroo of a task for sure, as unpleasant as the realities of this time and place most definitely are. All in all, I’d say Rush got out when the gettin’ was still good, and was lucky he did too.