America needs a real opposition to Donald Trump, not the plastic exterior of President George W. Bush’s recent resurgence in popularity
The popularity of former US President George W. Bush appears to be recovering. After publishing a book of his paintings of military veterans, which quickly became a bestseller, Bush appeared as a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in early March.
The president and host DeGeneres discussed incredibly lighthearted and jovial topics: Bush’s amusing, photographed struggles to put on a rain poncho; his widely reported friendship with former First Lady Michelle Obama; and even wider popular culture, featuring a demonstration of the ‘dabbing’ dance move.
The TV appearance ignited online discussion about Bush like wildfire, with many drawing contrasts between this new fresh and friendly elder statesman-like figure to the outwardly fierce and ruthlessly contrary current US President Donald Trump. “Dear George W. Bush, Please come back”, wrote one Twitter user. Others appear to agree.
Upon closer inspection this contrast does not appear to be so clear. Liberals who would support a Bush presidency but disparage Trump most likely come from a very particular and rather unconscious standpoint on politics: that is, politics not as a means of improving people’s lives, but as a venue to signal one’s own social and moral superiority.
This standpoint values the image of political respect, civility and good nature, however shallow, above almost all else — including policy and actions. Bush and Trump vary greatly in presidential rhetoric: Bush spoke out against Islamophobia at a speech in a Mosque after 9/11, while Trump brashly demonises Muslims worldwide as possible terrorist threats to America. However, in presidential actions, the two presidents show a largely similar treatment of these same people: from Bush and his murderous Iraq War, and from Trump and his discriminatory travel bans.
At this point, the American centrist position on the matter appears to be that: yes, Bush may be responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis, but at least he usually wore a tie, was polite, and respected the solemnity of the office that allowed him to do so. In reality, however, there is no value to this hollow projection of respect for the office of the US presidency if its power is utilised in such a fashion which seriously harms millions upon millions of people.
What is more, as much as it caters to news reports and a positive public impression, there is no worth to be found in this outward guise of honest service, decorum, and good nature, if the actions of this very same person are completely the opposite: warmongering, oil-thirsty, and murderous.
In what nightmare of a future must we reside in today if President Bush is now a beloved public figure? He is the man who, along with Tony Blair, manipulated media to draw public support for the Iraq War, paving the way for the post-truth politics of Brexit and Trump himself. He is the man who used 9/11 as a mandate to deport millions of people from America’s borders in order to rally a country behind an anti-immigrant Republican Party. He is the man who pretended to search for WMDs in the Oval Office as a gag for the Correspondent’s Dinner. To come to the conclusion that Bush was in any way a more morally sound and respectable president than Trump is currently, one must ignore a mountain of corpses Bush left behind.
Bush brutalised the very same people Trump is brutalising today. The civil war he created still kills hundreds on a weekly basis. He may smile and laugh on TV with celebrities, he may appear friendly and warm-hearted, but judge him by his actions and not his projected personality and one will arrive at an entirely different conclusion.
Trump is continuing Bush’s legacy with his Islamophobic actions against Muslims today, it only appears differently because of how open and outspoken he is on the issue. Trump may be the first president to shout about it himself, but as the victims of decades of US foreign policy will tell you, this treatment of Muslims is no radical change. It is merely another rung upwards.
In order to truly resist the Trump presidency today, liberals must judge politicians not on their words but their actions. Value judgements based on surface image and rhetoric will only lead to further collusion with those such as Bush who lay out dangerous frameworks for future presidents like Trump to take advantage of.
This is a particularly difficult task to accomplish in a two-party state, where the only truly viable party other than Republicans are the Democrats: who have in recent decades favoured the ‘third way’ positions Clintons and Obama.
The rightwards shift of the Democrats to the centre not only allows Republicans to move even further rightwards themselves, but also no longer wins Democrats elections: as demonstrated well by Hillary Clinton last year. Instead, a real opposition is needed.
Support for left wing policies of tolerance and acceptance continues to grow in America today as the ideological dichotomy widens, leaving fewer and fewer in the middle ground. These people need to be engaged and represented.
There can be no real bipartisan effort to oppose Trump. For any kind of success to come about as a result of the end of the Trump administration, whether in eight years, four years or sooner, Bush and people of his kind must be shunned, rejected, and opposed as vehemently as Trump himself.