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We Have To Remember How Terrible George W. Bush Was
We're Still Living In The Fallout From His Presidency
There is a tendency, especially in America, to think about the whole world in terms of what happened most recently. Recency bias, in which the thing that is happening right now generates the strongest reaction, has a big downside when it comes to contending with the problem of American conservatism.
Donald Trump was a terrible president, incapable of handling the basic duties of the presidency and a complete failure when it came to dealing with COVID-19 both in the earliest days of the outbreak and as the death toll piled up on his watch. There was of course also the misogyny, racism, and homophobia and the xenophobia — so much xenophobia, manifesting through his stupid wall and the temper tantrums he threw in response to the media and prominent women like Nancy Pelosi. There is so much about Trump that was terrible and continues to be terrible.
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But we shouldn’t let the recency of Trump obscure just how much of an abject disaster his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush was.
It is the lowest of bars, but if you can say anything positive about Trump, one could note that he didn’t lie us into a war that killed thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and screwed up an already dysfunctional Middle East in a way that continues to reverberate throughout the globe almost two decades after his presidency.
Because Bush did that.
Bush was a foreign policy disaster via the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and when he wasn’t screwing that up he was pulling back from government oversight as the Great Recession was building steam and he twiddled his thumbs as New Orleans drowned.
Oh, and when he wasn’t engaged in those disasters Bush was trying to restrict the right to an abortion and attempting to get a ban on same-sex marriage enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
This is the man who received a memo before 9/11 entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike” and instead prioritized photo ops that showed him clearing brush on his “ranch” that he dumped the minute it was no longer useful as a political backdrop for him.
He even tried to privatize Social Security, and if he had been successful it would have made the billions in retirement that went up in smoke with the mortgage crisis look like child’s play.
Bush put the country and the world through hell. We can’t forget that because Trump is so terrible and unleashed a more vocally crude version of conservatism.
The heart of the matter is that Trump is not an aberration from the conservatism of Bush (or Reagan or the Goldwater revolution of 1964 that elevated this nonsense to a national movement). The true difference between Trumpism and Bushism is tone, not substance.
Under Trump, we had the January 6 attack on the Capitol, led by American brownshirts like the Proud Boys and other pro-Trump/GOP malcontents concerned only with keeping power in the hands of the right by any means necessary. But Bush himself was installed with the help of the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida in 2000, which was focused on stopping the count of ballots seen to be favorable to Al Gore. The right-wing federal judges installed by Trump owe a debt of gratitude to the conservative justices in Bush v. Gore, who carved out a ruling designed to get Bush in the White House in the first place.
The difference between the Bush era and the Trump era, is that under Bush the right felt that it had to pay lip service to civility and tradition. Under Trump they have realized that they can be more open with their bigoted animal instincts and still amass mass support and win political battles (though their record of national victories is pretty weak without the help of the electoral college).
Democrats play an unfortunate role in the national forgetting of Bush’s awfulness as well. The Obama administration foolishly clung to the notion of “moving on” from Bush as President Obama took power in 2009. Since then we have seen the frequent normalization of Bush and that era’s Republicanism with far too many Democrats (including President Joe Biden, Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer) positively citing a more genteel version of the right that fundamentally has no argument with the Trump era.
We’re living in the world that Bush did much to create. His judges continue their work to undermine the New Deal and the safety net. We still don’t have enough oversight of big business and the super-wealthy don’t pay nearly enough in taxes. International terrorists continue to plague the entire world, growing out of the wars of choice and deception Bush launched. The very foundations of the republic that have been under attack from Trump and his acolytes, election denialism and embracing fascism, were seeded by Bush, his cronies, and how they view the world.
There is an unbroken line between the two men, and just because one spoke in more socially acceptable “gaffes” while the other is a crude whirlwind of hate, does not mean they are in unrelated silos of history.
Yes, we must be vigilant and wary of Trump and the movement that backs him, a looming threat to America and the world. But don’t forget how he got there and how we got there — on the shoulders of his similarly evil ideological fellow traveler: George W. Bush.
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