For the past few months, the arc of the Trump administration's attempts to subvert, then reject, and now overtly overturn the results of November's presidential election have injected a number of cursed buzzwords into the poisoned political zeitgeist. We've agonized over "coups," and chuckled at "krakens," and groaned with each frantic claim of "FRAUD."
This week, a new — and legitimately dangerous — shibboleth entered the national discourse, thanks to far-right broadcaster Rush Limbaugh: "secession."
During his characteristically rambling radio program on Wednesday, Limbaugh, who has a well-documented history of racism, inverted a call-in question about whether conservatives "can win" elections in the future for an extended riff on whether conservatism "can win" in general.
"I thought you were asking me something else when you said, 'Can we win?' I thought you meant, 'Can we win the culture, can we dominate the culture?'" Limbaugh explained, before launching into what could easily be construed as a call to arms for his listeners.
Per Media Matters's transcription of his broadcast (emphasis mine):
I actually think that we’re trending toward secession. I see more and more people asking what in the world do we have in common with the people who live in, say, New York? What is there that makes us believe that there is enough of us there to even have a chance at winning New York? Especially if you’re talking about votes.
I see a lot of bloggers — I can’t think of names right now — a lot of bloggers have written extensively about how distant and separated and how much more separated our culture is becoming politically and that it can’t go on this way. There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way.
I leave it to you, reader, to decide for yourself why you think Limbaugh felt the need to use "New York" as his synecdoche for "incompatible with conservatism." What's clear, however, is that for those inclined to listen to him in the first place, Limbaugh's use of the word "secession" coupled with assertions that "there cannot be a peaceful coexistence" when the country is in "this dire a conflict" could easily be construed as calls for political violence, cloaked in the faux patriotism of Civil War-esque rhetoric.
"I know that there’s a sizable and growing sentiment for people who believe that that is where we’re headed, whether we want to or not — whether we want to go there or not. I myself haven’t made up my mind," Limbaugh added, giving himself just enough wiggle room and plausible deniability to distance himself from any potential consequences of his broadcast. (See also: President Trump's "many people are saying").
Now, does a single segment from a radio host — no matter how popular he may be — mean we're careening headlong into sustained armed conflict between Trumpist brownshirts and everyone else? No, of course not. But given the proliferation of MAGA militias and the president's intensifying calls to reject any upcoming administration that doesn't have himself at the head of it, Limbaugh's "secession" comment is a decisive kick to Overton's eponymous window. The cursed genie has inched its way further out of its bottle, and the beast has slouched even closer toward Bethlehem. It's hard to see things getting better, until they get worse first.