For all of Donald Trump's ills, he has not done anything (yet) as evil as lying to the American public in order to start a continent-destabilizing war that killed 500,000 to 1 million Iraqis. George W. Bush is a monster who jump-started the NSA's internet-spying apparatus, launched America into a perpetual state of war across the globe, allowed the torture of innocent people, and created Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After his eight years in office, the economy plunged into the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. He deserves to be banished from civil society.
Instead, Bush is apparently seen as a tame, moderate pal who can tag along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott to raise money for Scott's Senate campaign.
As Politico Florida first reported earlier this week, Bush will appear with Scott at campaign events in Tampa and Palm Beach this Friday. Since Politico broke the news, the story has not generated even close to the level of outrage it should. Late yesterday, Politico's national team reported that Bush will stump for a few other House and Senate Republicans this election cycle in his first round of political endorsements (not counting his brother Jeb!) since he retired from political life in 2011.
Bush's image has benefited so much from the Trump era that Politico didn't even feel the need to put Bush's name in the headline. The news outlet focused on Scott "ducking Trump" instead. An endorsement from the architect of a war that killed possibly a million people was considered an afterthought.
Scott is trying to fundraise with Bush because the governor no longer seems willing to put his face next to Trump's. Scott previously chaired a pro-Trump political action committee and spent a ton of time publicly defending the president — but not so anymore. Scott has mysteriously distanced himself from Trump on the Senate campaign trail in 2018, likely due to the president's dismal approval numbers, pudding brain, inability to speak in complete sentences, and implication in a smorgasbord of corruption scandals. Yesterday Trump pumped his fists at a 9/11 memorial as if he was about to take a go-cart ride.
But Scott's workaround — appearing with Bush rather than Trump — is little more than a cynical attempt to gaslight Florida. In his eight years in D.C., Bush unquestionably unleashed more death, destruction, and hate than Trump has so far. This is somehow a controversial opinion among a certain section of #Resistance Democrats in 2018. But it's true, and the national media's collective retconning of Bush's heinous crimes against humanity is a disservice to history.
Bush is now emerging from his self-imposed exile in 2018 because he knows that a large section of the public will let him get away with it. CNN in January reported
First, it’s important to be clear what Bush actually did. There is a key number missing from [reviews of Bush's 2017 compilation of paintings titled Portraits of Courage]: 500,000, the sum total of Iraqi civilians who perished as a result of the U.S. war there. (That’s a conservative estimate, and stops in 2011.) Nearly 200,000 are confirmed to have died violently, blown to pieces by coalition air strikes or suicide bombers, shot by soldiers or insurgents. Others died as a result of the disappearance of medical care, with doctors fleeing the country by the score as their colleagues were killed or abducted. Childhood mortality and infant mortality shot up, as well as malnutrition and starvation, and toxins introduced by American bombardment led to “congenital malformations, sterility, and infertility.” There was mass displacement, by the millions. An entire “generation of orphans” was created, with hundreds of thousands of children losing parents and wandering the streets homeless. The country’s core infrastructure collapsed, and centuries-old cultural institutions were destroyed, with libraries and museums looted, and the university system “decimated” as professors were assassinated. For years and years, suicide bombings became a regular feature of life in Baghdad, and for every violent death, scores more people were left injured or traumatized for life. (Yet in the entire country, there were less than 200 social workers and psychiatrists put together to tend to people’s psychological issues.) Parts of the country became a hell on earth; in 2007 the Red Cross said that there were “mothers appealing for someone to pick up the bodies on the street so their children will be spared the horror of looking at them on their way to school.” The amount of death, misery, suffering, and trauma is almost inconceivable.
(On the subject of Iraq, it's worth noting Scott's Democratic opponent, Bill Nelson, also voted for the war.)
Bush left politics as a leper who, at the time, had done more than nearly any other president to damage America's image abroad and cement the United States' role as a self-interested, imperial power for the next 20-odd years. In 2014, the U.S. government outlined how the CIA, under Bush, used barbaric torture techniques on detainees that led prisoners to suffer "hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.” Waterboarding prisoners — including people accused of no crimes, such as Abu Zubaydah — escalated into "near-drownings." The CIA blended solid food and pumped it into the rectums of at least five detainees. Interrogators threatened to rape detainees' mothers and in other cases were accused of outright sexual assault.
The public has never been fully told what President Bush did or did not know about these abuses, and there is evidence the CIA lied to him on numerous occasions. But it is clear he approved of the general scope of the scheme. In 2014, the New York Times reported that Bush "expressed discomfort" after learning one detainee had been chained to a wall and forced to defecate and urinate on himself, but that the president allowed the torture to continue. In return, the 2014 torture report said the interrogations resulted in no usable intelligence. Many of Bush's actions rank among the darkest chapters in modern U.S. history.
On the domestic front, Bush allowed wiretapping of American citizens, created the Department of Homeland Security, and deputized ICE to deport immigrants in increasingly huge numbers. He did zero to fight climate change, and his deregulatory financial policies were partly to blame for the 2008 economic crash. Trump may be a corrupt monster with the morals of a rat, but in many ways, Bush created the playbook Trump is now exploiting. Bush was, indeed, that bad.
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Those now holding up Bush as a wizened leader seem to forget he was ridiculed for being so inept at public speaking that CNN created an entire "Bushism" blooper reel to send him off into retirement. Trump-era Bush apologists also seem to forget Bush was a grade-A asshole: During the 2000 presidential race, he circulated a smear campaign that two of Arizona Sen. John McCain's children were illegitimate.
In 2017, Corey Robin, a leftist author and political scientist at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, begged the American press to continue treating Bush harshly. Robin worried that the nation's inability to grapple with the crimes of the Bush years is likely a preview for the next 15 to 20 years, when Trump administration officials, and perhaps Trump himself, will be given apology tours and held up as paragons of virtue compared to whichever mouth-breather wins the presidency in 2040. Harvard University already hired Sean Spicer, and Trump isn't even two years into his tenure yet.
That Scott sees no problem in fundraising with Bush is not surprising. Scott has proven to be a petty and mean-spirited governor with a truly astounding list of corruption scandals and financial conflicts of interest. Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen long ago questioned whether Scott was the worst governor in Florida history.
In ducking Trump this election cycle, Scott has shown he's picky about with whom he associates in public. The public should, for once, take Scott at his word and judge him on his choices.