A few thoughts on George H. W. Bush
Today, former President George H. W. Bush was laid to rest, amid a pomp and circumstance we haven’t seen in presidential funerals since, probably, John F. Kennedy. I remember Ronald Reagan’s funeral, and there wasn’t a national day of mourning for him. And Richard Nixon was buried discretely.
The encomiums flowing to Pres. Bush no doubt stem from the monster we have in the West Wing now.
Pres. Bush was not a great president. 1988 was my first election, and I voted for Dukakis. 1992 was my second, and I happily voted for Bill Clinton. I was at UCLA when Bush invaded Panama in an effort to dispel the “wimp” image he had, and we all joked that we’d be drafted. He ignored climate change, was a man of his times on gay rights and AIDS, and was a typical Republican on race matters, especially in the wake of the Los Angeles Uprising after the Rodney King verdict, and the Willie Horton ad which, arguably, got him elected in 1988. He has many marks against him.
But few humans are one thing. He did help bring about the end of the Cold War. He went back on his infamous “no new taxes” pledge when he realized that the national fisc required them. He at least recognized that America had become a harder, colder place after the rule of his predecessor, and that a “kinder, gentler nation” was needed.
In other words, Bush was a human being, with faults and merits, not the caricature of evil we have now in the White House. I won’t praise him, but neither will I cast aspersions on him. Historians will determine his place, and, as I’ve written, it will be a mixed bag.
It’s a sign of how far we’ve fallen that—let’s be frank—a failed president is now being lionized. Were Hillary Clinton president, I’m sure we’d have had the same ceremonies; but they wouldn’t have had the same meaning. They wouldn’t be held in the shadow of incipient fascism. They wouldn’t be held as a comparison with the current occupant of the office. People wouldn’t say, as we did at work yesterday, “Sure, I didn’t vote for him, but I didn’t feel like the country would fall apart if he won.” Every moment of national gathering is a rebuke to Donald Trump. His mere presence is an affront to decency. In death, George H. W. Bush has become a symbol of that decency, whether he deserves it or not, for the mere fact that he is not “him”. This is where we are now, casting about for remembrances of a time before Trump, as his malice and animus consumes the political oxygen.
Donald Trump has wounded our national psyche in a way few other people have. We have to go back to the Civil War to find a corollary. But Trump is the result of 50 years of Republicanism—a Republicanism to which, yes, Bush contributed in part. That’s why historians will be judicious in breaking apart his legacy. Trump’s will be easy: he brought a mighty state almost to its knees in the service of a foreign power and his own interests. Bush’s, like a normal human being’s, will take decades to settle on. And that’s why he’s being mourned. For both good and ill, he was just a man. He wasn’t a creature bent on destroying the Republic.
Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.