It is almost unbelievable to me that George W. Bush could give a speech that criticizes our current president in the terms Bush uses, or that he could express any kind of concern about the state of our democracy. The truth of Bush’s critique makes it even more appalling. He does not seem to see that he is responsible for the wreckage and moral deterioration he sees around him. He seems like a person who pours poison into a reservoir, then returns later to observe how everyone around him seems sick.
Bush left office a little over eight and a half years ago, in January 2009. He is responsible for starting wars that have undermined our country morally and physically. He led a group in our government who created a worldwide network of torture sites, made waterboarding a common practice, and defended what Bush calls ‘casual cruelty’ at every turn. He did not acknowledge, either during his presidency or afterwards, that he or people who acted for him had done anything wrong. Yet he seems to think now that Donald Trump is the symptom of our recent decay, without a thought that he and his friends caused it.
Read a paragraph from Bush’s speech, one the media like to quote:
We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times it can seem that 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.
How can Bush not see that these remarks – including his appeal to the golden rule – also apply to the crimes he committed as president, and to the effects of those crimes? While he spoke for the United States, I could not fathom his dishonesty: I could not see how someone could debase our politics and world politics as he did, yet talk as if he wanted the best for people. This passage makes me think even the concept of dishonesty does not apply to Bush. He is so thoroughly unaware of what he did, and the consequences of his actions, that he has just cut himself loose from truth and human compassion altogether. Does the idea of dishonesty apply in a case like that?
Significantly, coverage of Bush’s speech talks about it as a takedown of President Trump: a rebuke from someone who is respectable, delivered to someone who is not. Man! I am no defender of Donald Trump, but until he drops a nuke on North Korea, his crimes and misdemeanors do not come close to George W. Bush’s. Bush brought ‘casual cruelty’ to the world the way termites devour the foundation of a house. By the time Bush and his mates were through with American democracy, it had nothing to stand on. After Bush, how could we be surprised that a populist tramp like Trump would show up?
A dozen years after Bush’s disasters, more than a few people would flock to see a demagogue and vote for him if he claimed he would make America great again. Bush is not our first bad president, nor is he responsible for everything bad in American culture at the moment. Yet for him to set himself up as a critic of current morals is hard to abide. If he had brought such a critical eye to his own behavior, and most importantly to his own decisions about war and treatment of prisoners, he might see less to dislike now. He might have been able to stop himself from leading his country into ruin.
Full text of George W. Bush’s speech