If Not Here, Where Is the Line on Half-Mast Tributes?

On Feb. 17, the world lost one of the most influential conservative voices in recent history, Rush Limbaugh, due to lung cancer in Palm Beach, Florida.

From 1988 to 2020, Limbaugh took to the radio waves with his inflammatory and often divisive rhetoric, invigorating conservatives around the nation. To the chagrin of his political opponents, Limbaugh was a master of keeping audiences engaged.

His loquacious reign over 15 million listeners and his resilience while battling one of the hardest afflictions the human body can face earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Donald Trump at the 2020 State of the Union.

These accolades built a legacy that will not soon be forgotten and will continue to affect American politics for decades to come. While his death left a vacuum in conservative media, that legacy does not warrant some of the tributes he garnered. One such attempted tribute was from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who, as a sign of solidarity with the far-right, ordered flags in the capitol and government buildings in Palm Beach to be flown at half-mast.

At best a heartwarming tribute to a friend, DeSantis’s order had denigrated one of the greatest posthumous honors of the nation to appease a base of voters who already had their 2022 gubernatorial ballot completed. This begs the question: where do we draw the line on this tributary tradition?

Anticlimactically, the line has already been drawn from a legal, logical and moral standpoint.

The legal answer to this question is most explicit and uncontroversial due to the direct language in the United States and Florida law. 4 U.S. Code § 7 dictates to us the people that can be honored by half-mast: government officials, armed forces members killed while serving, first responders, and other principal figures of the U.S. government.

Limbaugh fits into none of these categories, and DeSantis’s obscene lack of respect for not only the United States law, but the men and women who deserve to be honored catapults the governor yet again into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The breach of the United States code made it easy for Palm Beach County officials to disregard DeSantis’s insular order. The conclusion of this narrative, however, leaves out DeSantis’s nonexistent logical considerations and morally compromised decision-making.

Disregarding the U.S. Code, which is what DeSantis has so blatantly done, there is absolutely no precedent for the action of respecting a member of the media in this manner. Logically speaking, there is no reason for Limbaugh’s ascension to such a position of recognition. The position recognizes sacrifice for one’s country, something that you will be hard-pressed to associate with Limbaugh.

Here are a few of the bottom of the barrel arguments put forward in a futile attempt to justify DeSantis’s smear of the people who sacrificed their lives for himself and his constituents:

‘Limbaugh spent most of his life trying to improve the country the best way he could!’

While this is something to commend, it is in no way comparable to the men and women who died in service for the nation or served public office on behalf of the American people.

Additionally, millions of American workers, volunteers and students devote their lives to improving the betterment of the nation, whether it be for their children or for themselves. If Limbaugh deserves this great honor, why does the single mother working three jobs deserve it any less? Why do the parents who immigrated from across the world to give their children a better life deserve it any less? These Americans, the backbone of our society, arguably deserve this honor more than Limbaugh, though DeSantis’s office still has the audacity to call Palm Beach County’s decision a ‘petty’ move.

‘Limbaugh was the principal architect of modern conservatism in politics!’

Not quite. While Limbaugh had a major voice in politics, he most certainly was not the leading cause in the Republican Party swinging more and more to the right; he was merely the medium between the far-right and mainstream culture. While freedom of speech is one of, if not the most important rights bestowed on the American people, his outspoken nature did not directly shape the American government; even if it had, it still would be a blatant disrespect of the Americans the tradition does honor.

Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative who served from 1973 to 2003, bears striking resemblance to this deified version of Limbaugh because Helms is everything that people claim Limbaugh to be.

Unlike Limbaugh, Helms mended the fabric of the conservative platform, leading the party further to the right and helping prop up Ronald Reagan as the next face of the party. After the senator’s death in 2008, the order to put flags to half-mast was recognized and respected. Even though Helms did the things Limbaugh could only claim he did, the symbolic gesture for Helms was due to his service to his country, not to his party. If anyone who serves their party should be memorialized by the half-mast tradition, as DeSantis seems to claim through his actions, every voting citizen would have to receive the honor upon their death.

The moral carelessness of DeSantis’s order is perhaps the most sickening aspect of the governor’s latest gall for attention on the national stage. The first amendment allows the right of free speech, though it is up to the people to determine what speech represents them; that’s what makes it free. DeSantis forcing the people of Tallahassee and Palm Beach to pay respect to a man that held no office of power in the United States and held radical views is a moral degradation of the first installment in the Bill of Rights.

Ordering flags to be lowered for this man is demanding the people of Florida respect a man who called into question President Obama’s birth certificate, degraded feminism, denied evolution, downplayed and projected COVID-19 conspiracies, and never failed to interject his rants with sickening and bigoted racist statements.

Whether as a polarizing start to a midterm campaign or a flare signaling DeSantis’s steadfast allegiance to Trump in the hopes of an endorsement, the governor manipulated and used a method of recognition and respect for personal political gains.

By politicizing a tradition of American life that has been used to console a grieving nation during times of struggle and strife, DeSantis has shown what little regard he might have for the countless Americans who gave their lives for us. This is unless, of course, having that regard will score him enough voters to continue to hold an office he incessantly abuses on the quest for power.

Featured image: The Flag of the United States flying at Half Staff. Unmodified public domain image.

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One Comment

  • Anthony Russano

    If you scroll past ‘4 U.S. Code § 7’ and go on to the following section, you will see that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was well within his legal authority on this particular issue:

    Executive Documents
    Proc. No. 3044. Display of Flag at Half-Staff Upon Death of Certain Officials and Former Officials
    Proc. No. 3044, Mar. 1, 1954, 19 F.R. 1235, as amended by Proc. No. 3948, Dec. 12, 1969, 34 F.R. 19699, provided:

    5. The heads of the several departments and agencies of the Government may direct that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on buildings, grounds, or naval vessels under their jurisdiction on occasions other than those specified herein which they consider proper, and that suitable military honors be rendered as appropriate.

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