Last month, former president George W. Bush, who has largely remained quiet during the Trump presidency, gave a speech in New York to “support democracy.” He provided a token defense of the value of free markets and decried “the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.” However, despite Bush’s professed love for democracy and free markets, he predictably failed to address how he treated people in those chaotic so-called “distant places” — he didn’t mention his administration’s restrictions on Iraqis’ free speech, the cancellation of their democratic free elections or the immense profits made by members of his administration during the occupation.
After Bush’s speech, much of the U.S. media showed incredible shortsightedness by lavishing praise upon a man they so loathed during his time in office less than 10 years ago. In the words of CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, “George W. Bush just laid a major smackdown on Trumpism,” even though Bush did not mention Trump’s name. “Bush Bashes Bigotry, Bullying and Lies,” New York Magazine celebrated, celebrated he “tore apart President Trump and everything he represents without ever saying the man’s name.” Painting Bush as some sort of conservative conscience during his or former President Barack Obama’s terms would have been completely laughable, but these days, any politician who doesn’t seem to have emerged directly from Steve Bannon’s cave is treated as a hero.
Trump’s financial greed and racist sentiments come in populist proportions on his childish Twitter account and in his brash Queens timbre, making him more hateable to some than former president Bush, who veiled his Wall Street deregulation and profitable war crimes with a down-home Texas accent and an ideological veil of Reagan-esque compassionate conservatism. But both men support or have supported dangerous myths of climate change denial, privatization of everything from the military to health care and highly destructive interventionism. However, Trump has so far done less damage than Bush — he has not started any wars or caused any financial crises, though he has blundered a hurricane relief effort.
The press and the American people must remember that Trump is not an outlier — he and Bush both come from a party with a long, shameful tradition of espousing thinly veiled racism in return for electoral clout and plausible deniability. In many ways, Trump is no different from his political ancestors; like the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville — “some very fine people” — Trump says out loud what Bush-era Republicans used to only whisper. George Bush led directly to the current Republican party, and no oblique pseudo-condemnation of Trump can change that.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 20 print edition. Email [email protected]