This weekend, the George W. Bush Presidential Center released a video concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. The video, narrated by former President Bush, describes the dangers of the novel coronavirus, and the havoc it is wrecking on our medical system and national psyche. He then describes how the nation came together after 9/11 by forgetting partisanship, and how we are now uniting to combat this present threat. In short, Bush called for unity in the face of this pandemic, and essentially criticized Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
The former president was immediately showered in praise by many liberals. Former Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill commented on the video. “In a million years I never thought I’d be crying watching this, thinking how much better we’d all feel if Bush were president today,” Hill said.
Amy Siskind, a highly acclaimed liberal author, reacted to the video by arguing that “we need the grown up leaders from both parties to speak out now. Trump is in way over his head.”
Since the election of Trump, establishment Democrats and many mainstream media figures have begun to look at the Bush presidency nostalgically. They remember a time when presidents spoke eloquently, carefully measuring each sentence while constantly using rhetoric that would unite, not divide, the nation. A political era defined by civility. This is encapsulated by the strong public friendship between Bush and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The two are friends even though they stand on opposite sides of the aisle. During Obama’s presidency, Bush refused to criticize him out of respect for the office.
This idea of civility began to crack during Obama’s tenure, but Trump completely shattered it. Unlike his predecessors, Trump attacked Bush for the video, tweeting that the former president “was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!” Trump was referring to his impeachment, but either way, he is unlike any modern president in terms of his lack of civility and complete disregard for presidential decorum, or acting “presidential.”
The thing about Bush’s decorum, politeness, and civility, however, is that it blinds people to the fact that as president, he did just as much damage as Trump, if not more, to the United States and the world. All of the democrats and liberals that would prefer Bush during this pandemic seem to have forgotten the abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina. It is easy to laugh at who Trump has appointed to positions of power, but Bush appointed a former judges and stewards commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association as the head of FEMA.
Despite his politeness, Bush is a war criminal. The former president that liberals are now exulting set up a worldwide torture program that was exposed at Abu Ghraib. Bush might have been polite and civil in the public eye, but behind the scenes he was green lighting torture programs, rapidly increasing the ability of the government to spy on Americans, and sitting back while the nation’s largest banks committed mortgage fraud on a massive scale.
Obama was of a similar vein. His public persona is of a man willing to work with the other side and a president that like Bush, fully embodied the idea of civility and presidential decorum. But just like Bush, this public persona acted as a false persona covering the cold, dark reality. The Obama Administration refused to investigate Bush’s CIA torture program, arguing that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” And look forward Obama did, approving ten times as many drone strikes as Bush.
The liberal establishment seems to believe in civility and decorum more than policy and the truth. In reality, outward appearance means nothing if it cannot be substantiated with facts. It does not matter if a president is civil and polite when he's simultaneously committing war crimes.
Just because Trump lacks decorum, doesn’t make him a better president than Bush or Obama, but the superficial civility of past presidents is one reason Trump’s perceived straight-talking style is loved by millions of Americans. He is falsely viewed as a truth-teller. At the same time, the civility and decorum of Bush should not blind liberals to the completely illiberal actions that he took during his time as president.