A friend of mine lives in an apartment building adjacent to the commuter rail tracks running in and out of Boston. A few years ago, the city decided to build a new commuter station literally right outside his bedroom window. After the construction crew broke ground, they erected a two-story pile driver and proceeded to ram beams deep into the ground from 5:15 am until around 5:00 pm. The crew was never, ever late, and the sound and vibration of the driver literally rattled the fillings in my friend’s teeth. The construction seemed to last forever. Only in the brief evening silences could he clearly contemplate just how astonishingly awful the noise was.
I am reminded of my friend’s plight by the sudden absence of Trump noise upon the passing of George H.W. Bush. I don’t believe it, don’t trust it, and wait with permanent wince for it to commence again… but for the ongoing moment, the pile-driver president has actually fallen into a respectful silence, leaving us all a breath of blissful stillness in which to contemplate the gruesome noise. You can only hear the ringing in your ears when the banging stops.
I would have lost a bet had one been available. If the MGM Grand put, “When will Trump’s need for attention cause him to flip out?” on the big board in its main gaming room on Monday morning, I would have confidently put every dime I own on the red felt marked “Tuesday afternoon,” with maybe a few extra chips on “Wednesday morning, early” just to play it safe. Here we are on Thursday, and I’d be broke as a joke if Vegas played my kind of ponies.
If the definition of “reasons” was changed to “excuses for being a noxious fiend at the worst possible moment,” Trump has plenty of “reasons” to drop some bricks on the Bush clan. For Trump, no time is a bad time for exacting revenge after a perceived slight, and the Bush family has sent more than a few his way over the last several years.
A year after ending his doomed 2016 run, Jeb Bush referred to Trump as a “chaos president” who is “living in the tyranny of the moment” and making “really stupid mistakes.” That his assessment was completely accurate does not alter the fact that a grudge-guzzler like Trump is going to find a way to lash out, even if it’s at a funeral. Especially if it’s at a funeral. Dead guys can’t punch back.
George W. Bush is so freaked out by Trump that he has voiced public concern about being the last Republican president, which is perfect W., because Trump is also a Republican. Becoming a painter hasn’t made #43 any brighter, but he has a definite argument. “This guy doesn’t know what it means to be president,” W. said in 2017. (Pssst… Neither did you, George; the nation and the world will be many generations getting out from under the bloodbath calamity of your administration. The fact that the same can be said for Trump, even by the likes of you, only deepens the misery.)
As for the departed man of the hour, Bush Sr. got positively feisty on the topic of Trump. “I don’t like him,” the elder Bush told author Mark Updegrove. “I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.” Bush Sr. went on to castigate Trump for his outsized ego before confessing to the most mortal sin of them all: He voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
To quote Yosemite Sam, “them’s fightin’ words.” Don’t get me wrong, George H.W. Bush may have been amiable, but his actions were monstrous. His grim record of atrocity and failure was well-paired with that of his vapid shower-painting son. Still, for Trump, willingly admitting to casting a Hillary vote is an insult beyond bearing. This fact alone makes his ongoing silence an astonishment.
It isn’t as if Trump somehow lacks the capacity to hurl insults at members of the Bush family. Trump over the years has taken pains to point out George W. Bush’s responsibility for the disastrous Iraq War. The invective he hurled at Jeb Bush during the 2016 campaign has become the stuff of legend. In one memorable sitting on February 8, 2016, he said:
Jeb is having some kind of a breakdown. He’s an embarrassment to his family. He has to bring his mother out and walk his mother around at 90 years old. I think it’s a very sad situation that’s taking place. Frankly, he’s a stiff. He’s not a guy who can be president.
He doesn’t have what it takes to be president. He’s a desperate person. He’s a sad and a pathetic person. He doesn’t even use his last name in his ad. He’s a sad person who has gone absolutely crazy. I mean, this guy is a nervous wreck. He says nasty things and I put him down on the dais and he goes away like a little sheep.
Not even Bush Sr. has been spared the lash. “The thousand points of light,” Trump said mockingly to a delighted crowd this past July, “what the hell was that by the way? Thousand points of light, what did that mean, does anyone know? I know one thing: “Make America Great Again,” we understand. Putting America first, we understand. Thousand points of light, I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
Twitter isn’t broken; we know this because Trump nearly obliterated the national economy on Tuesday when he tweeted a wad of fractious nonsense about China and tariffs. All the usual tools are there at his disposal. He hasn’t gotten any wiser, clearly, in the intervening days since Bush Sr. passed, and still has the impulse control of a toddler in a toy factory. Yet here we are, in this strange silence.
The corporate news media doesn’t quite know what to do with itself in this whistling void, so of course they’re doing the worst possible thing: Praising Trump for not being a feral rattlesnake person. He declared a day of mourning! Look, the flag is at half-staff! He didn’t fart on the casket when he paid his respects! He must have turned that long-lost corner! By doing the barest minimum expected of him, Trump has people actually thinking he may have finally changed.
I close my eyes and imagine a sweaty, turgid Trump rally to come. He will stand before the adoring crowd, the inevitable red tie hanging from his wattled neck like a fan belt caught in a tree branch after a flood, and the subject of George H.W. Bush will rise out of the humid mists of his mind.
“I mean, look at how old he was,” Trump will say to the roaring mob. “Am I that old? I’m not that old. He was so old, right? I mean, I like my old guys less old, you know? He was so old he’s dead now. We’re not dead, right? We’re making America great again. You know he voted for Hillary, right?”
The Bush clan may not be his next target, though Dog knows they deserve it. Slagging a powerful, well-connected family is not Trump’s usual style, however. Like as not, his next target will be a migrant kid at the border, a reporter with a disability, an athlete with a social conscience or a protester who dares to shout him down. Whoever it is, count on the next target coming soon. The pile-driver crew is never, ever late.