Former President George W. Bush’s video about American unity during the COVID-19 pandemic was supposed to be inspirational—and for some, it was. Smarmy media types saw it as a message of hope, pining for the times when there was a “real leader” in the White House instead of some doofy reality star.
But the Bush nostalgia led some people to wonder, yet again, how an awful president’s brutal legacy could be so widely overlooked.
George W. Bush’s presidency was an international embarrassment defined by one monstrosity after another. His mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina led to thousands of displacements and deaths. He effectively legalized spying on every American and exponentially expanded the NSA while his special forces illegally tortured suspected terrorists across the globe. And he started the Iraq War on completely false pretenses, which led to the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi civilians and nearly 5,000 American soldiers.
Bush paved the way for the radical conservatism that followed him. His administration dramatically radicalized the judiciary, appointing hyper-partisan judges—like Brett Kavanaugh—to federal courts. It targeted immigrants, exploited racial minorities, stripped away voting rights, and consolidated presidential power. All of the seeming insanity that followed him, from the Tea Party to Donald Trump himself, can be traced back to Bush.
But none of this matters to media types who exalt Bush because he did things “the right way.” He observed political norms and niceties, which puts him miles ahead of Trump, and he never would have let a crisis like COVID-19 get this bad—except, you know, when he repeatedly did. It’s hard to overstate how reviled Bush was in his moment. Contrarian takes which are now routine and easy to find were at that time drowned out by a louder, more powerful establishment media. But even prominent liberals consistently referred to him as one of the worst presidents in history, and they were right. Still, that hasn’t stopped the American political media apparatus from laundering and rehabilitating his ugly legacy (and likely won’t stop them from doing the same for Trump in a few years, either).
Trump may well prove more ruinous to the United States than Bush was. The current president’s resume is uniquely cruel, and the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare his personal and administrative incompetence. But the origins of his destruction began with Bush. No one would put it past Trump to try starting an illegal war that leads to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths (in fact, he already tried). Until he does, however, Bush has him beat—and it’s not particularly close.