The lesson of Bush’s Trump speech: someday Sideshow Don will seem statesmanlike, too


Is there any such thing as “conservative enough”?

By now most of you are aware of former president George W. Bush’s speech earlier today, in which he offered up a pointed critique of Donald Trump (or someone exactly like him). Bush was certainly right about the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and we all ought to be distressed by the actions that prompted the criticism.

My problem, though, runs deeper: we ought not be terrified over the state of things at present, but at the arc of things, at the trend running from Trump all the way back to Richard Nixon and at what it portends for the future of American leadership.

Tricky Dick, one of the most corrupt presidents in American history, was finally forced to resign over his involvement in the Watergate affair (which was tame as a sedated Yorkie compared to what happens in the Trump White House pretty much weekly). The next GOP president was Ronald Reagan, who was a great man according to a certain definition of “great.” Critically speaking, though, he needs to be regarded, now and always, for things like the Iran/Contra scandal, the enduring generational lie of trickle-down economics, HUD grant-rigging, the S&L crisis, raising racist dog-whistling to an art form and the fact that no fewer than 138 of his people were investigated, indicted and/or convicted, the most of any president in history (although it’s still early in Trump’s tenure).

Reagan’s successor, George HW Bush, was a comparatively innocuous one-term lapdog. His son, though – the man responsible for today’s sober words – was the grandest clownshoes in the office’s modern history, a simple-minded, grifting war criminal who did all he could to loot the nation blind on behalf of his corporate elite littermates and who, by the way, engineered us into an illegal military adventure that has, to date, killed around a half-million people, many of them innocent civilians.

The staggering thing, then, about Donald Trump is that he has managed to accomplish the unimaginable: he has made George W. Bush look like a statesman. Eloquent. Articulate. Thoughtful. Reflective.

We’ve been marveling for years how four decades of corruption and right-sliding have ushered us to the point where Nixon now looks pretty good (and remarkably liberal) in hindsight. But nothing we’ve ever witnessed – at least not in my lifetime – comes close to the spit-shine Trump has applied to the Bush legacy. It’s the moral equivalent of somehow making Jethro Bodine look like Einstein. No PR hack who ever lived has accomplished half as much on behalf of a client.

This is only part of what’s scary, though. Every few years we get another round of conservatives threatening to primary their current Republican legislators from the right because they aren’t conservative enough. They ran John Boehner out of Congress, for instance, and now the presumptive leader of our new respectable class of neo-Nazi, Steve Bannon, has drawn a bead on all GOP senators up for reelection. His main criterion for these more appropriately conservative challengers: they have to commit to doing something about Mitch McConnell.

Stop for a second. Take a deep breath. Reflect. Mitch McConnell isn’t conservative enough.

And as you think back, doesn’t it seem like every time a new level of conservative purity takes the fore, it’s the guys who used to be challenging from the right who aren’t conservative enough any more? It’s like the GOP goalposts are mounted on a rocket sled.

So the question becomes: where, if anywhere, does it end? Is there a point we can reach that the fringes will regard as conservative enough? What happens when the next generation of barking dingbats rises up to challenge Bannon and his henchmen for being too establishment?

And this. Brace yourself for that day, a few years down the road, where former president Donald Trump takes the podium to excoriate the current Republican president for the reckless character of his temperament and the heartlessness of his policies.

Remember this the day you find yourself marveling that your president has made Donald Trump seem so reasonable and statesmanlike by comparison.


  • My gut, or at least my sincerest hope, is that the drive to the right has gone nearly as far as possible and probably as far as the establishment will let it get. To get any more extreme at this point, they’d really have to run Richard Spencer in full regalia with Alex Jones as his running mate and Vince McMahon running the campaign. I think what you said about Trump being the one thing that could spit-shine Bush’s legacy is true. None of Bush’s words today make him any less the neocon menace he was when in office, but that was a hell of line in the sand to draw for his own wingnuts. When I tune my tinfoil hat just right, I can almost imagine that nebulous “establishment” intentionally inflicting Trump on us by way of making us feel grateful for whatever Bush, Romney, Obama, Clinton-derivative Wall Street apparatchik comes along. They couldn’t have done much better had they tried. Then again, I’ve also imagined Trump being the ultimate Democratic plant, riling up a retrograde fringe so much that they get just within reach of the brass ring only to have it yoinked out of their grasp again and again by the courts. In any event, I think Trump’s term will ultimately be a repudiation of that extreme so we can comfortably go back to Bush and McConnell being our worst hobgoblins.

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