Once upon a time, George W. Bush was considered the worst president in history, a loser and a war criminal. Then, he took on Donald Trump and his supporters, connecting the 9-11 attacks directly to both the Capitol riots and Trump supporters in general. Now, he’s a revered elder statesman. This is the establishment in action, redemption for them, but none for you.
President George W. Bush left office in January 2009 in absolute disgrace. The polling organization, Gallup, put his second term approval rating average at 37% with a low point of 25% in October 2008. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called him a “loser” on the floor of the Senate Chamber, and that was far from the worst of it. He was accused of stealing two elections, called illegitimate, and regularly compared to Hitler. There were those who wanted to try him as a war criminal in the Hague, accusations he intentionally let black people die in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, questions about his intelligence, and claims he was the worst President in history. In May 2006, the Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz, wrote an article for Rolling Stone, asking just that question, “George W. Bush: The Worst President in History?” He began by stating the conventional wisdom at the time, “George W. Bush’s presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace.” He cited a poll as early as 2004, an “informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a ‘failure.’”
One might think it would be impossible to recover from such ignominy after leaving office, but the Bush family is the epitome of the establishment. George W. Bush himself is the grandson of a Senator; the son of a President. He’s a pedigreed elite among even the elites, and, therefore, he is not beyond redemption in that exclusive club. Barbara A. Perry, the Presidential Studies director at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, described this transformation for The Hill recently. “As a former president, he has displayed a Churchillian penchant for painting, especially poignant portrayals of wounded warriors and immigrants; a bipartisan relationship with Bill Clinton, whom he calls his ‘brother with a different mother’; and transformation into an adoring grandfather. His elegant and heartfelt eulogy for Bush 41, a genuine statesman and war hero, revealed that we should never ‘misunderestimate’ 43 and his capacity for growth.”
Last weekend, he completed this radical transformation into revered elder statesmen with a speech at Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks, inadvertently revealing that the secret to elite approval is nothing more than disapproval and scorn for Americans who commit the thought crime of disagreeing with the establishment, especially when it comes to your opinion of former President Donald Trump. The speech itself began regularly enough. If not moving or original, at least eloquent and on point for the proceedings. The former President spoke about how 9-11 showed “that our lives could be changed forever. The world was loud with carnage and sirens, and then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again. These lives remain precious to our country, and infinitely precious to many of you. Today we remember your loss, we share your sorrow, and we honor the men and women you have loved so long and so well.” He spoke to the generation too young to remember or born in the wake, “For those too young to recall that clear September day, it is hard to describe the mix of feelings we experienced. There was horror at the scale — there was horror at the scale of destruction, and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it. There was shock at the audacity — audacity of evil — and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it.”
From there, however, he descended into the bizarre and insulting, both to the memory of those who lost their lives on 9-11 and to his fellow Americans today. Somehow, he made the logical leap from talking about security measures implemented after 9-11 to domestic terrorism, literally within a single sentence. “As a nation, our adjustments have been profound. Many Americans struggled to understand why an enemy would hate us with such zeal. The security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability. And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.” Then, he proceeded to harangue what everyone knew to be Trump supporters, though without the courtesy or courage of mentioning the target of his ire by name. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
Yes, this was in the middle of a speech devoted to memorializing a horrific attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a singular moment in American history. One that was planned and plotted for years, complete with all the trappings of James Bond criminal conspiracy, including secret hideouts, sleeper agents, and the President in office at the time of those attacks chooses to compare them to a riot at the Capitol building. Meanwhile, the only person killed by actual violence at the Capitol was one of the protestors themselves, shot by an agent of the state. The FBI has spent millions of dollars and thousands of manhours investigating the incident as a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the government and has yet to produce any charges beyond trespassing and disorderly conduct. As someone put it, my apologies for forgetting their name, to compare the two events, just imagine holding a convention at the WTC the same evening as 9-11, yet Congress met right after the riot and continued their business.
It’s almost impossible to conceive how ridiculous a rhetorical turn of phrase and logical leap this actually is in light of recent events. It’s as if this speech were written in some alternative reality, or perhaps spliced together from multiple realities that bear absolutely no resemblance to our own. Less than two weeks ago, we withdrew Afghanistan in disgrace, ceding control and retreating in the face of the very same violent extremists that provided safe haven for the 9-11 attacks. We left immediately after the worst attack on American soldiers in a decade. Thirteen of our troops died at the hands of a terrorist offshoot organization, one that was formed after our disastrous Iraq policy, and yet President Bush makes no mention of confronting them, the actual terrorists. Closer to home, less than a year ago, our cities were in flames on a nightly basis and organized mobs regularly tore down “national symbols” with the express endorsement of the Democrat party, but he doesn’t want to confront them, either.
Instead, the target is you, the Trump supporter. Perhaps even worse, he does it with a complete dodge, claiming there’s “little cultural overlap” between your average Trump supporter and Al Qaeda member, but we’re all “children of the same foul spirit.” Continuing the alternative history theme, the former President then proceeded to bemoan the current state of our politics, again with thinly veiled references to Trump and his supporters. “When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. A malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.”
Of course, some might be inclined to give the former President the benefit of the doubt and claim he was referring only to the actual rioters on January 6, some other group of extremists, perhaps even including the rioters over the Summer of 2020. Unfortunately, the former President cleared up any confusion in that regard by providing the establishment-approved references to anti-Muslim “religious bigotry,” the need to welcome “immigrants and refugees,” and “nativism” complete with declaiming the “hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders.” The mainstream media was happy to make sure this point hit home. The Washington Post wrote, “George W. Bush reminds us that Republicans once believed in democracy. Embracing Muslims? Welcoming immigrants? This is the antithesis of Donald Trump’s party.” USA Today claimed that “Bush also didn’t mince words about the Republican Party in the months following the Jan. 6 attack, describing the party he once led as isolationist and nativist during an April interview with CBS news.”
Incredibly, the former President chose to close his speech by pining for the halcyon days of unity after 9-11. “That is the nation I know. This is not mere nostalgia; it is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been — and what we can be again.” Yes, the famed post 9-11 unity, complete with trillions wasted, the worst foreign policy decisions and debacles in the modern era, thousands of soldiers dead, tens of thousands injured, a sprawling, intrusive, unconstitutional surveillance state that monitors the cell phone calls of every American in the country. What’s not to like, provided you’re in the establishment class, pushing foreign wars and passing huge bills that erode basic rights for everyone else?
Once again, one wonders if this speech were written about another place and time, delivered by another President who made better decisions and didn’t bear so much of the responsibility for the current state of the country. Alas, it was delivered by a President I sadly admit to voting for twice, one who now has clearly and irrevocably aligned himself with the establishment class at the expense of every supporter who disagrees. The establishment’s rules are simple: They make the rules and you live by them with obedience and without question. It is they who have decided America is a country of essentially open borders and anyone who disagrees is racist. It’s also the country of endless military engagements until the establishment decides otherwise, and then don’t dare question the competence of our withdrawal. According to them, America is sick from within because you exercise your right to disagree and, assuming you’re not suppressed on social media, you will be ridiculed as some ignorant rube if not a violent extremist.
Amazingly, their lack of self awareness is so complete, it never occurs to them that perhaps, just perhaps, some of this just might be their fault. Maybe, just maybe, if they didn’t say or do anything to get what they wanted, lie about everything when it’s convenient, make up the rules and the democratic norms as they go along, change voting procedures in the middle of an election year, and generally destroy everything they touch, we might offer them more respect. Of course, that’s far too much to ask. Instead, we get the scorn of the man we put into office twice. Scorn without even the slightest indication he accepts any responsibility at all for how we got here in the first place. All I know, it must be nice living in the high towers of the establishment and never having to say you’re wrong.