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To Rush Limbaugh people with autism are 'not well.' He's wrong -- and vile

By Rex Huppke, Tribune Content Agency on

It is wise, if you value basic human decency, to ignore Rush Limbaugh.

The ever-outraged right-wing talk radio host has gurgled angrily for decades now, like an aggrieved and sulfurous geyser. His cruelty gives his fans a rush of adrenaline they presumably can't find elsewhere.

For people like me, Limbaugh is white noise in the whitest sense of the word, a patriarchal old man who puts people like himself atop the power structure and won't allow anyone different -- a woman, a person of color, a person with a disability, an LGBT person -- inconvenience him in the least.

It's Limbaugh's world, you see. It's a world of white, male dominance, a world where people like him don't have to think about the words they use or whether something they say might offend someone.

And as much as he should be ignored, the size of his audience and the power he still wields in conservative circles makes it important to occasionally look in and understand the vile sauce many Americans marinate in.

So consider what Limbaugh said on his Friday show about Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who was recently named Time magazine's Person of the Year.

Limbaugh was responding to critics of President Donald Trump who were rightfully appalled that the president mocked Thunberg on Twitter and suggested she "work on her Anger Management problem."

The host said: "The first thing to notice about Greta Thunberg is that she's 16 years old. She claims she has Ansperger's type -- Ausperger's -- or autism -- Asperger's -- some kind of problem in that area."

He continued: "So she's out tweeting and politicizing, and she is free to lie and say whatever she wants to say about climate change and who's responsible for it. And nobody is permitted to question her, you see, because she has -- what did they call it? She is in the autism spectrum, so you can't disagree, you can't question, because she's not well."

She's not well. That's what set me off. While you can pick and choose the offensive aspects of those comments, the casual remark that Thunberg is "not well" highlights Limbaugh's reckless disregard for anyone who isn't just like him.

Thunberg has Asperger's syndrome, which means she's on the autism spectrum. Autism is not a disease. And Thunberg is clearly well.

Earlier this year, she tweeted: "I'm not public about my diagnosis to 'hide' behind it, but because I know many ignorant people still see it as an 'illness,' or something negative."

Enter Rush Limbaugh, precisely proving the 16-year-old's point.

To suggest that a person with autism is "not well" is demeaning and dehumanizing to anyone on the autism spectrum. It is both factually incorrect and a fundamentally awful thing to say.

The response to that from Limbaugh and his followers will undoubtedly be something along the lines of, "I don't give a damn about political correctness!"

 

In fact, Limbaugh basically went there as he continued his Friday rant:

"This is a tactic that the Democrats use. They will go out and purposely find disabled people, they will make of them prominent political figures ... they've used Michael J. Fox this way. They had him out there cutting television commercials for Democrat Senate candidates. 'Can't respond, can't react, can't criticize, because he has Parkinson's, it's not fair, it's mean-spirited.' Sorry, it doesn't shut me up. I'm willing to pay the price for what they do. But it's a time-honored trick that they use."

Look, if the goal of people like me has long been to shut up people like Limbaugh, it has been a catastrophic failure, because he's still filth-babbling for hours each day.

And the suggestion that Democrats are out rounding up people with disabilities to act as ideological human shields is volcanically offensive to people with disabilities, not to mention transparently untrue.

The "THEY'RE TRYING TO SILENCE US!" hustle is as stale as the idea that political correctness is some great evil. Nobody's trying to silence anybody. All anyone is doing is asking that the Limbaughs of the world treat other people with a measure of respect.

People on the autism spectrum don't want to be described as sick or "not well." Because they're not sick. And they're not "not well." They're people. Period.

If you want to disagree with Thunberg's views on climate change, fine. If the attention she has received bothers you, fine. If you feel the need to criticize her -- a teenager -- for the role she has taken on as a voice for climate advocacy, that's between you and your soul.

But to go after her in a way that brings down people with autism, to belittle people with disabilities by suggesting they would let themselves be used as political pawns, is villainous.

Thunberg and Limbaugh exist on different moral planes.

She's doing what she believes will make the world a better place for everyone.

He's doing what he thinks will make it better only for himself.

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(Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at rhuppke@tribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.)

 

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