Bush and re­vi­sion­ism

We should be cau­tious of re­brand­ing Bush post Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion

The McGill Daily - - News - Rachel Har­ri­son is a U1 stu­dent ma­jor­ing in eenglish and his­tory. To con­tact the au­thor, email rachel. Rachel Har­ri­son Com­men­tary Writer har­ri­son@mail.mcgill.ca

Ge­orge W. Bush ended his sec­ond term with a 25 per cent ap­proval rat­ing, one of the low­est in the his­tory of the United States. The crit­i­cism he re­ceived dur­ing his pres­i­dency, as well as in the years fol­low­ing it, which cen­tred on his ini­ti­a­tion of the Iraq war and bum­bling pre­sen­ta­tion, has been a touch­stone of left-wing po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary. So it comes as a sur­real sur­prise to see Bush mak­ing head­lines for his book of paint­ings (which re­cently topped the Wash­ing­ton Post’s best-seller list), his ra­tio­nal­ity, and his ap­par­ent friend­ship with the Oba­mas, rather than the mil­i­tarism which made the Iraq war the most defin­ing fea­ture of his pres­i­dency. Iron­i­cally, the same bum­bling na­ture that once served as a point of cri­tique, is sud­denly at­trac­tive in com­par­i­son to the brash and ag­gres­sive fig­ure now in of­fice. The shock of a Trump pres­i­dency and the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­ders flood­ing in, have un­der­stand­ably left many feel­ing nos­tal­gic for an­other time. How­ever, be­fore we rush head­long into a con­grat­u­la­tory pa­rade for Bush’s new­found po­si­tion as “not as bad,” we should con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions of dis­con­nect­ing him from the ac­tions of his pres­i­dency, and where we draw the line in dub­bing peo­ple “a lesser evil.”

With Bush no longer at the fore­front of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, it is easy to forget that this grand­fa­therly fig­ure who calls for unity and artis­tic ex­pres­sion, once stood un­der that in­fa­mous star-span­gled ban­ner declar­ing “Mission Ac­com­plished.” The re­al­ity is that ev­ery year since 2003, Iraq has ranked in the top ten of coun­tries world­wide for num­ber of peo­ple dis­placed. Ac­cord­ing to 2016 statis­tics from the In­ter­nal Dis­place­ment Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­tre, around 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be in­ter­nally dis­placed in Iraq. Though Bush’s ac­tions in Iraq may ap­pear dis­tant, their im­pli­ca­tions are not. Bush is no longer com­man­der in chief, but that does not pre­sup­pose a com­plete ab­so­lu­tion of his ac­tions as such. Rather than view­ing Bush’s ac­tions as the past and Trump’s as the present, they should be viewed as com­po­nents of a his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­tory.

In iso­lat­ing Bush Jr. and Trump from their sur­round­ing con­texts, you re­duce them to their in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties, ig­nor­ing the po­lit­i­cal climates which cul­ti­vate them. Pres­i­dents serve pri­mar­ily as fig­ure­heads, whose per­sonas greatly im­pact pub­lic opin­ion, but they are sup­ported by the his­tor­i­cally-built ide­olo­gies of white supremacy, misog­yny, and set­tler-colo­nial­ism, amongst var­i­ous other forms of op­pres­sion. Their ac­tions, and even just their elec­tions, are the man­i­fes­ta­tions of the his­tory of ex­ploita­tion in the U.S.. The Iraq war is more than just the ac­tions of Ge­orge W. Bush: it is the cul­mi­na­tion of a cul­ture of mil­i­tarism, im­pe­ri­al­ism, and colo­nial­ism. Trump’s elec­tion rep­re­sents the over­whelm­ing pres­ence of white supremacy and Is­lam­o­pho­bia in the U.S.. While it is easy to re­duce them to their lat­est TV pres­ences, whether this be a bum­bling old painter or a shout­ing dem­a­gogue, they nei­ther pos­sess nor de­serve the credit for the power to sin­gle­hand­edly pro­duce events. By sim­pli­fy­ing them to com­pa­ra­ble evils and talk show ap­pear­ances, you ig­nore the broader nar­ra­tive to which they con­trib­ute, and fail to con­demn the im­pli­ca­tions of this tra­jec­tory.

Nat­u­rally, the present is more eas­ily called to mind than the past, but the op­pres­sive sys­tems that ex­ist to­day trace back through Bush and the decades pre­ced­ing him. One ex­am­ple of this is the “fake news” rhetoric which is so heav­ily used by the cur­rent Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion. Con­sid­er­ing Trump’s gas light­ing tech­nique of es­tab­lish­ing the main­stream me­dia as a na­tional en­emy and his ap­par­ent use of Bre­it­bart as his source for White House brief­ings, the ex­trem­ity of it all can seem too dis­tinctly Don­ald to as­so­ciate with the ex­ist­ing legacy in the U.S. How­ever, Bush’s de­nun­ci­a­tion of Trump’s anti-me­dia rhetoric is starkly dif­fer- ent to his be­hav­iour in of­fice. While in power the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­duced and dis­trib­uted fake news seg­ments known as Video News Re­leases, also known as VNRS, which were pre­sented with­out ref­er­ence to their source, in or­der to prop­a­gate suc­cess of the Iraq war. The same war was ini­ti­ated based on false knowl­edge of weapons of mass de­struc­tion, used by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to push their agenda. While Bush’s per­son­al­ity, or at least pre­sen­ta­tion of his per­son­al­ity, might have changed since his time in of­fice, his ac­tions still re­main a part of the tech­niques used by the U.S. to jus­tify op­pres­sion.

His­tory builds on it­self, and Bush and Trump are not out­liers on this tra­jec­tory, but man­i­fes­ta­tions of its path. By long­ing for the days of Bush, one is wish­ing to re­turn to a dif­fer­ent era of the same in­jus­tice. Nei­ther of the two men are iso­lated cases, so com­par­isons de­ter­min­ing who is a “lesser evil” are point­less. They are par­tic­u­larly no­to­ri­ous lead­ers whose im­pli­ca­tions are scary, but they are pow­ered by prej­u­dices and sys­tems of op­pres­sion which are firmly in­grained in so­ci­ety. By ab­solv­ing Bush you not only nor­mal­ize his ac­tions, but nor­mal­ize com­po­nents of the sys­tem which sup­ports him. With the shadow of 9/11 act­ing as pub­lic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, Bush called for the war in Iraq, but was pow­ered by the his­tory of mil­i­tarism and im­pe­ri­al­ism. Trump’s travel ban is pre­sented through his rhetoric but is fu­elled by pre-ex­ist­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia in the U.S..

If we choose to rel­e­gate Bush to the role of the lesser evil, it begs the ques­tion as to where we draw the line on who can qual­ify for this des­ig­na­tion. Hing­ing the pub­lic opin­ion on the de­gree of ex­pres­sion­ism con­tained in some­one’s hobby paint­ings ig­nores not only the ram­i­fi­ca­tions, but also the im­pli­ca­tions, of cer­tain events in our re­cent his­tory. Will we one day be say­ing “well, Trump doesn’t seem too bad any­more?” By for­giv­ing peo­ple, or at least min­i­miz­ing their neg­a­tive im­pact, on the ba­sis of how they com­pare to the evils of oth­ers, we al­low for a con­tin­ued es- ca­la­tion. If this is the case, then the only re­quire­ment for for­give­ness be­comes the pres­ence of some­one louder and worse. When do we stop nor­mal­iz­ing these ac­tions en­tirely rather than set­tling for a less ex­treme op­tion?

For many Trump’s elec­tion feels like a bizarre al­ter­nate uni­verse, or is just right­fully terrifying. It’s nat­u­ral that this has many wish­ing to re­turn to a time be­fore now, but be­fore we run straight into grand­fa­ther Bush’s open arms and ask him to teach us about mod­ernist paint­ing, we should con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions this has for both our present and fu­ture con­scious­nesses. If we for­give Bush, then we nor­mal­ize every­thing he stands for, and move one step closer to nor­mal­iz­ing Trump as well. We also lose sight of the broader his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive when we al­low Bush’s dis­tance from the of­fice to dis­tance him from his ac­tions. Trump and Bush are not sim­ply their per­son­al­i­ties, nor are they iso­lated events. They are the prod­uct of sys­tems of op­pres­sion in the U.S. which are built to use prej­u­dice in or­der to jus­tify ab­hor­rent ac­tions. Rather than leav­ing his­tor­i­cal events in the past in favour of more im­me­di­ate prob­lems, we should con­sider the ways in which they build on each other, and the broader im­pli­ca­tions they hold for the U.S..

It is easy to forget that this grand­fa­therly fig­ure who calls for unity and artis­tic ex­pres­sion, once stood un­der that in­fa­mous star-span­gled ban­ner declar­ing “Mission Ac­com­plished.”

Nora Mc­cready | The Mcgill Daily

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