And the world will be a better place

And the world will be a better place February 17, 2021

Rush Limbaugh is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Old Rush is as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Rush is as dead as a door-nail.

The above is adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, one of the most beloved stories in the world. It is a story so cherished that we tell it and retell it in dozens of different ways every year and throughout the year. It’s a story that almost everyone regards as good and as true and meaningful, and as somehow important.

Sure, we sometimes knock it as overly sentimental — particularly when we’ve gotten caught getting caught up in that sentimentality — but that’s the only real criticism anyone has of Dickens’ tale. No one criticizes it for being cruel, or rude, or unseemly.

That’s odd, because in other contexts, we’re all often scolded for exactly that — for being cruel, or rude, or unseemly — if we ever venture to “speak ill of the dead,” regardless of what sort of lives the recently departed may have lived and how many people they may have harmed and immiserated throughout their cruel lives. And almost often the very same people disapproving of any “speaking ill of the dead” are people who otherwise approve of A Christmas Carol.

I say that’s odd because A Christmas Carol is, from start to finish, a story preoccupied with the accuracy, appropriateness, and duty of speaking ill of the dead. That’s how the story starts, glibly noting the end of the wasted life of Jacob Marley.

And that is the climax of the story — the moment when Ebenezer Scrooge realizes that the end of his miserly, miserable life will have no impression on anyone except for those whose lives will be made easier and happier by his death:

… their hearts were lighter. The children’s faces, hushed and clustered round to hear what they so little understood, were brighter; and it was a happier house for this man’s death! The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, was one of pleasure.

I wrote about this aspect of A Christmas Carol more than a year ago — “The duty of speaking ill of the dead” —  and about how that duty to speak honestly of the dead is, in that beloved story, the thing that affords Scrooge a second chance at redemption.

To refuse to speak ill of the dead when that is what their lives deserve is, according to Dickens, to withhold grace from others who are still living as the Marleys and Limbaughs lived. To refrain from celebrating the death of Rush Limbaugh is to consign Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson to inexorable damnation.

The clip above is from Scrooged — Richard Donner’s 1988 retelling of A Christmas Carol. Despite Bill Murray and a fantastic cast, that movie is probably one of my least favorite versions of the classic story. But it did give us this bubbly, joyous, oh-so-’80s version of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Al Green and Annie Lennox:

Jackie DeShannon’s song is, like Dickens’ story itself, a bit sappy and sentimental. But it works there, at the end of this story, because it’s pure Dickens in the way George Orwell described him, as someone who was wise enough to realize that “‘If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds.”

The flower-power-ish refrain of “And the world will be a better place” takes on a deeper, double-edged meaning at the end of A Christmas Carol because it underlines the story’s motif of speaking honestly of the dead. It reminds us that we can either live so as to make the world a better place, or else be remembered only for making it better by dying. Ebenezer Scrooge eventually chose one path. Rush Limbaugh consistently chose the other.

And now Rush is dead, as dead as a door-nail. And the world will be a better place.



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