President Trump awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom to right-wing demagogue Rush Limbaugh during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night — bestowing the highest civilian honor to the radio host a day after he announced that he had been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
Along with a host of other guests, Trump had invited Limbaugh to sit in the First Lady’s box during the State of the Union. Midway through his speech, the president mentioned Limbaugh’s presence and grim cancer diagnosis, calling him “a special man” who is “beloved by millions of Americans.” Trump also insisted that Limbaugh “is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet,” and then revealed a surprise.
“I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Trump said, thanking Limbaugh for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.” The president then had Melania Trump award the medal to Limbaugh right then and there, while Republican lawmakers in the chamber responded with thunderous applause and Limbaugh broke into tears.
The impromptu ceremony was one of many dramatic moments built into Trump’s State of the Union address, as well as one of the night’s longest digressions. The side event was also arguably the most partisan moment of an election-year speech filled with base-feeding callouts. Limbaugh may be beloved by millions of conservatives, but he is also reviled by most liberals.
On Monday, after Limbaugh told his listeners about his diagnosis and said he would be missing some shows while undergoing treatment, President Trump sent a tweet celebrating his longtime ally and wishing him well.
The Rush Limbaugh Show has been on the air for 31 years, and its popularity has made its host one of the most prominent right-wing voices in America, including during the years before the rise of Fox News. He has also been one of the most shameless demagogues on America’s airwaves, frequently trafficking in racism, sexism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories.