I Googled the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to Wikipedia, the list of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients fall under 17 categories — and a total of 23 subcategories. These categories broadly range from politics, military and computing to arts, media and religion.
I then went to the official website of the White House to ascertain the reasons for why one receives such a prestigious and honorable award. According to the site, it is awarded “to individuals 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 endeavors”.
The medal has also been regarded to be more than just “our nation’s highest civilian honor” and, perhaps more importantly, “a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better.”
Up until last week, I had never heard of the name Rush Limbaugh. Further, I did not know about the racist, sexist, ableist — and all around bigoted — comments that his “phenomenally successful radio broadcast” sends to the world until he was bestowed with the prestigious award during the State of Union address last Tuesday night. Last week, the POTUS awarded Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country,” the people he “inspires” and to recognize “all that [he has] done for our nation.”
When I think of “tireless devotion” to this country, I do not think of people who promote injustice within this country with their hateful and discriminatory views. I think of the people who have fought — and the people who are fighting — against injustice. Regardless, at this point, I am not at all surprised that someone so outwardly prejudiced would be given “our nation’s highest civilian honor.” Whoever is surprised has most certainly not been paying attention.
Though seemingly paradoxical, Limbaugh receiving this award from the President of the United States made me somewhat optimistic. It reminded me of renowned researcher and educator, Dr. Joy DeGruy’s sentiment that we as a nation are on the “precipice of change” because of the preponderance of evidence of injustice in this country. Degruy uses the example of cigarettes. She delineates the culture shift of the once highly normalized and widely accepted addictive substance. It was not until a preponderance of evidence regarding the health risks smoking posed on the human body were brought to light.
Similarly, I believe the 2016 election, emboldenment and validation of white supremacists and Rush Limbaugh’s honorable recognition — and the profusion of discrimination and intolerance throughout — adds to the preponderance of evidence that I believe will soon shift the nature of this nation. A shift that would mean that racist and sexist radio show philanthropists — no matter how much money they give away — are not celebrated and honored. One day, hopefully, they will instead be held accountable for their egregiously prejudicial views. On this campus alone, a shift would mean progress no longer moves in retrograde. For instance, it would mean that the 1969 Willard Straight Hall Takeover would not be in vain. As of today, can we really say that it was not? The takeover supposedly “symbolized an era of change.” However, in 2017 a Black Cornell student was attacked by another Cornell Student after being called a racial slur and then in 2018, two Cornell students were transported to the hospital after being physically assaulted and “verbally harassed with ‘racial epithets.’”
I no longer want to be asking “what are we letting our country get away with?” because I do not want this continual injustice to be for nothing. Our country should not be this piercingly divided along racial issues and issues of equality. I believe we need a storm before we finally reach the calm. And either we are in the midst of it, or harsher winds are coming. I am just hoping I am not being too naive when I trust that despite the unabashed intolerance, this country is going to realize that united we stand, and divided we are sure to fall.
Sidney Malia Waite is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Waite, What? runs every other Friday this semester.