The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump

Ian Reifowitz (Author) Markos Moulitsas (Foreword by)


"How did we get here?" is one of the essential questions right now in American politics. How did we go from a country that elected Barack Obama twice to one that, popular vote loss aside, elected Donald Trump? Two words: Rush Limbaugh.

The Tribalization of Politics explores how the conservative radio host "tribalized" our politics through his racially divisive, falsehood-ridden portrayal of President Obama. By playing and preying on white anxiety, Limbaugh laid the groundwork for the election of a president who essentially adopted his view of the Obama presidency.

During Obama's eight years in office, Limbaugh repeatedly used a technique called "racial priming" against America's first black president--language designed to heighten white racial or cultural resentment. Limbaugh's aim was to convince his audience that Obama was anti-white, anti-American, radical, Marxist, black nationalist, among other labels. Limbaugh's divisive rhetoric against Obama was designed to cleave America in two, creating a conservative "tribe" animated by passionate racial and cultural hatred toward the opposing tribe.

A vital analysis of the assault on truth and accuracy carried out by right-wing media as well as by politicians like Trump, The Tribalization of Politics reveals how the race baiting rhetoric of the most popular radio host in America against President Obama helped elect our current president, in the process threatening the democratic principles upon which our country was built.

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
Ig Publishing
Publish Date
June 25, 2019
5.3 X 0.5 X 8.0 inches | 0.75 pounds

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About the Author

Ian Reifowitz is a professor of history at Empire State College of the State University of New York. He is the author of Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books, 2012). Ian is also a Contributing Editor at Daily Kos, and his articles have appeared in the Daily News, Newsday, the New Republic, In These Times, Post-Star, Truthout, the Kyiv Post (Kiev), Huffington Post, among other outlets.


"Ian Reifowitz's impressive forensic examination of Rush Limbaugh's years of cynical race-baiting provides a startling glimpse into the talk radio kingpin's outsize role in tribalizing and dividing America during the years of Barack Obama's presidency. Reifowitz details Limbaugh's central role in priming conservative audiences to view Obama as a paragon of racial rage and retribution, rather than the exemplar of racial reconciliation that the first African American president sought to embody. In so doing, Reifowitz shines a harsh light on the ugly inner workings of the right wing grift-and-grievance machine and its role in placing white identity at the center of conservative politics, helping pave the way for the rise of Donald Trump."--Greg Sargent, author of An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics

The radicalization of movement conservatism and the Republican Party can be laid at the feet of Rush Limbaugh in so many ways -- especially the way he normalized hate speech and a loathing for democracy. Ian Reifowitz brilliantly lays out the path that Limbaugh took during the Obama presidency and demonstrates that it became a roadmap for the rise of Trumpism and its unleashing of the forces of hate in America. -- David Neiwert, author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump

"Many have commented on the growing tribalization of American politics. But perhaps no one has done it as creatively as Ian Reifowitz. By documenting Rush Limbaugh's persistent race-baiting and "othering" of the Obama Presidency, this book provides invaluable insights into how right-wing backlash against the first black president set the stage for the rise of Donald Trump. A must read for anyone interested in understanding racial politics and polarization in the Obama and Trump eras."--Michael Tesler, co-author of Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America

"In this prescient and well-researched book, Ian Reifowitz traces the roots of America's current problems with racism to the vile invective Rush Limbaugh used to describe Barack Obama, the nation's first Black President. Skillfully explaining how conservative talk-show race-baiting led to the naked racism of Trump's America, Reifowitz shows that the recent rise of white supremacy and white nationalism is inextricably linked to the power of language - and that the right-wing needs this type of incendiary racism to survive. The Tribalization of Politics is a fantastic reminder that racism has always been alive and well in America, it's just been obscured by rhetorical tricks and coded speech. This is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how the US has reached its lowest point in race relations since the Civil Rights Movement."--Keri Leigh Merritt, author of Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South

"What does it mean to be a white person in the United States today? Since the civil rights era, progressives have answered that it means nothing more or less than to be a co-equal member of society. But on the right, the answer is far scarier--and no one has more powerfully frightened whites with tales of racial peril than Rush Limbaugh, to his immense profit. Ian Reifowitz in this stunning book shows what democracy is up against."--Ian Haney López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class

"Donald Trump's racially charged campaign and presidency didn't emerge from a vacuum. Reifowitz documents how Trump follows on years of racialized rhetoric on conservative talk radio. This is important reading for anyone who wants to understand how American politics became so riven by 'identity politics.'"--John Sides, co-author of Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America

"Ian Reifowitz provides a compelling analysis of the power of racialized rhetoric by examining Rush Limbaugh's comments about former President Barack Obama. Reifowitz's comprehensive study provides a wealth of information in a scholarly book that is also entertaining. He supports his arguments well and shows the manner in which the language of an influential radio commentator characterized the nation's first African American president as the "other," an "agitator," and "angry" and thus paved the way for the election of President Trump."--Sharon D. Wright Austin, author of The Caribbeanization of Black Politics: Race, Group Consciousness, and Political Participation in America

"Ian Reifowitz's insightful new book shows how the anti-immigrant, race-baiting rhetoric of America's premier conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, paved the way for Donald Trump's winning campaign for president. It persuasively demonstrates that Trump was not an anomaly, but exploited racial fears and resentments that Limbaugh had stoked since the beginning of the Obama administration."--Allan Lichtman, author of The Case for Impeachment