On his radio show last week, far-right commentator Rush Limbaugh used the word “dictatorial” to describe President Donald Trump’s demands that NFL team owners force players to stand for the National Anthem. Said Limbaugh, “There’s a part of this story that’s starting to make me nervous, and it’s this. I am very uncomfortable with the president of the United States being able to dictate the behavior and power of anybody. That’s not where this should be coming from.”
Limbaugh’s comments were covered giddily by much of left-wing media. Headlines and commentary suggested he had broken with Trump. But even if the remarks did represent a break from Trump – Limbaugh stressed repeatedly that they did not – there’s still no cause for celebration. Because Limbaugh’s real point isn’t that President Trump was out of line, but that if anybody is going to restrict First Amendment rights for the players, it should be the team owners.
This is the central thesis of Republicanism. Orders and mandates are forbidden and the Constitution reigns supreme. But as soon as two parties enter into an employer/employee relationship, all rights are surrendered to the boss. Limbaugh, who once made a bid to be part-owner of the St. Louis Rams, has no concern for the rights of players or their valid protest. He wants to protect the rights of his chums in the good ol’ boys club of NFL owners.
Nothing else Trump has done up to this point has bothered Limbaugh or been seen as dictatorial. When Trump threatened to take away licenses of news outlets that criticize him, Limbaugh praised his “effort to defeat the left,” saying, “This is what pushing back looks like.” Limbaugh is on board with Trump’s North Korea provocations, his effort to strip healthcare entitlements away from the poor, and his dismantling of the EPA. But when Trump talks tough to billionaires, Limbaugh draws a line.
As Limbaugh explains, “The owners should be demanding [players stand for the Anthem], not the president.” In other words, absolute tyranny is allowed, and even encouraged, from the private sector. But players are the owners’ to control, not the government’s. Factor in the fact that most owners are white and most players are black, and that the respectful protests are explicitly about state violence against people of color, and the stench of racism becomes unmistakable.
At its core, this is what the Republican agenda has always been about. Deregulation, tax cuts, and opposition to labor movements all protect the business owner’s right to lord over his domain like a dictator. The far right doesn’t believe in the government’s power to interfere with business at any level – not to implement safety standards, mandate benefits, or prohibit discrimination based on race, religion or sexuality. Limbaugh deserves credit for taking a principled stand. His principles, however, are terrible.