Former President George W. Bush gave a speech last week that could be summed up as “racism is bad” and “democracy is good”. The New York Times called it a “pointed rebuke” and the Huffington Post described it as “[speaking] truth to power”. Just how low has the bar fallen when condemning racism and defending democracy can be called acts of bravery? Simply because we’ve grown accustomed to our current President’s dismissiveness towards white supremacists does not mean that it’s abnormal or commendatory for any public figure to…I don’t know…not be a racist with authoritarian tendencies?
Have we been so starved of decency that even the most mundane platitudes like “people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American” make us forget who George W. Bush is? Because I guarantee the people of Iraq have not forgotten, or at least the ones who weren’t one of the 600,000 casualties of the fruitless war that Bush started haven’t forgotten. Or have we forgotten Iraq because George Bush repeated some mean words about Donald Trump from a speech somebody else wrote?
Maybe you have been caught up in Bush-mania, with all of his painting, getting trapped in ponchos, and talk show appearances. Perhaps that southern drawl and his rather “limited” command of the English language has made you nostalgic for the Bush Presidency. On occasion, you might even turn on the television and say to yourself “Oh what a man he was”, pinning for a time when “things just made sense” Stop doing that.
Liberals so often want to hold the Democratic establishment, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and others to account for their actions (which is what we should be doing). But if we can’t even resolve to hold to account the man who lied us into the most reckless foreign policy disaster ever (President Trump, there’s still time), who deregulated the agencies responsible for federal oversight which would contribute to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression (again President Trump, there’s still time), and stoked the flames of white resentment that would eventually lead to the ascendancy of Trump…then how can we expect to be taken seriously?
George Bush wants to imply that Donald Trump, members of his cabinet, and the supporters of Trumpism are bigots. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. However, George Bush surely isn’t going to pretend that he’s above playing the bigot for political gain? Because when he was a candidate for President in 2000, Bush didn’t seem to have any reservations about giving a speech at Bob Jones University (which at the time banned interracial dating). Bush’s allies also didn’t seem to have a problem spreading the slander that John McCain’s adopted daughter from Bangladesh was actually a love child from an affair with a black prostitute. Then there was the debacle over “family values” which lead to Bush campaigning for reelection in 2004 on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would’ve prevented gay couples from receiving any legal recognition.
George Bush also just casually drops that democracies across the world are becoming unstable and for reasons beyond our understanding, America has lost it’s moral authority internationally. He says “Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement:…In the confrontation of security challenges before they fully materialize and arrive on our shores…In serving as a shining hope for refugees and a voice for dissidents, human rights defenders, and the oppressed.” First of all, if confronting security challenges before they “fully materialize” sounds familiar it’s because that’s basically the justification Bush used for a preemptive invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then he said “Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.” Which leads me to my second point, many of the “refugees” Bush says America should embrace exist because of his policy decisions. ISIS would not exist if it were not for the power vacuum created by the Iraq War. As we now know, many of the leaders of ISIS got their start as bureaucrats and insurgency fighters in Iraq. The Civil War in Syria, which has many combatants including ISIS, has created by some estimates at least 6,000,000 refugees.
But perhaps all of that could’ve been forgiven, obviously it shouldn’t be but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where this praise might’ve been more appropriate. There was a time to give this speech, and it was literally at any point before November 8th, 2016. It literally only adds insult to injury that Bush had his come to Jesus moment a full 11 months after it would’ve been the most useful. We know George Bush didn’t vote for Trump, and he didn’t have kind words for him at the inauguration. So with all this pontificating about his concern for the future of democracy and the threat posed by unbridled nationalism, one has to wonder…what the hell took so long?
Forget the Obama-Trump voters and Bernie-Trump voters, because George Bush was unlikely to sway those people when it really mattered. Instead, remember the Romney-Trump, McCain-Trump, but more importantly, Bush-Trump voters who constituted the overwhelming majority of Trump’s support. Those people might’ve cared what George W. Bush had to say about the dangers of nativist and isolationist politics. It’s almost like this entire speech was political theater because in the grand scheme of things it did nothing but reinforce ideas held by everyone whose name is not Donald Trump.
So, let’s not be so quick to heap praise on Republicans with destructive pasts simply because they did the not at all courageous thing of criticizing the most unpopular President in history. Will there come a day 10 years from now when we’re applauding former President Donald Trump for delivering a speech on the dangers of President Ted Cruz’s fundamentalist ideas? Will we forget again and initiate Donald Trump as a member of the resistance for doing the bare minimum as some have attempted to with George Bush? Let’s hope not.