I spent many hours writing against George W. Bush as a twenty-something college journalist. This week, I commend him.
George W. Bush and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues. For the better part of my twenties, I spent my time railing against Bush’s policies, his initiatives, and his wars. It was Bush, in fact, that drove me toward political opinion writing in the first place.
During the fall of 2005, perhaps fed up with my incessant letters to the editor, the campus newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee invited me to become a regular staff writer. From there, I must have written tens of thousands of words (both for the paper and elsewhere) against the Bush administration, up until the 2008 presidential election when my attention focused toward getting Barack Obama elected instead.
When the transition of power between Bush and Obama became real on January 20, 2009, I pushed Bush out of my mind, knowing that a defense of Obama’s policies would now be my primary source of essay writing.
One thing I never did while Bush was in power, however, was call him a Nazi. I refrained even from calling him a fascist. Bush was a lot of things I didn’t like, and it’s still arguable that he and his administration committed war crimes. But words matter — and those words reminiscent of 1930s Germany didn’t describe the 43rd president of the United States.
I wish my contemporaries on the left had done the same. Many did — but others were quick to throw those words around, to demean Bush, and to compare him sometimes to Adolph Hitler. In my mind, those analogies did very little to advance our cause, and I recognized also that calling someone those names diluted their meaning.
Now we have a president that is bordering on fascism, who speaks like an authoritarian, and who is fast to forgive white supremacists that ally themselves with a neo-Nazi resurgent movement. These are indeed dire times in American history. With President Donald Trump at the helm, our democracy faces immense challenges.
These are not observations I make alone — individuals on the left and the right have recognized the dangerous overtones present in Trump’s speeches and actions. And on Thursday, former President George W. Bush also spoke out against the current presidential regime.
Bush spoke on the dangers of “nationalism becoming nativism.” “Repression is not the wave of the future,” he said, adding that, “when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.”
Bush never mentioned Trump by name. But it was clear who he was talking about…who else could it be, when you read these words?
We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.
Bush spoke on strengthening markets as well as strengthening our defenses. He also spoke at great lengths, however, on strengthening “democratic citizenship” — especially for the younger generations.
“People of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American,” Bush said.. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
Our young people “need positive role models,” Bush added, in what sounded like his strongest condemnation of Trump yet in the speech. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
I’m not changing my opinion on George W. Bush. His presidency did much to harm the people of these United States, and his deeds cannot so easily be forgiven.
But it is necessary to give him “props” tonight. His words against nationalism, in favor of inclusion, and promoting civil-minded civicism ought to be recognized, even from this writer who was penning several pages-long essays against his doctrines ten years ago.