I’ve been dutifully checking my Book of Revelation apocalypse boxes as this year has unfolded. A pestilence upon the land? First horseman, check. A spreading hunger as food banks run dry and federal aid is denied? Second horseman, check. War in the streets as police and soldiers brutalize peaceful protesters under the bloodshot gaze of a failed pretender-king? Third horseman, check.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. (Revelation 6:7-8)
George W. Bush offering his advice on how to heal the wounds of this deeply damaged nation? Fourth horseman, check.
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I really don’t need this shit right now. Neither do you, neither does anyone, but here we go again. The Dubya Rehabilitation Tour continues unabated, aided by the anthropomorphic calamity factory squatting in Bush’s former chair. George W. Bush is like the moon now, a dead rock in space made bright only by the borrowed orange light of the Trumpian sun.
Yet here he is, taking a break from painting portraits of the soldiers he fed into the meat grinder of Iraq and Afghanistan to share some thoughts on the state of the union.
“Former President George W. Bush is calling for a national examination of ‘tragic failures’ in the realm of racial injustice following a week of protests over the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis,” Politico reported yesterday.
A “national examination,” you say? Like the one you managed to entirely avoid after using rank racism after September 11 (which happened on your watch) to deliberately terrorize the nation while looting the Treasury by way of a pair of wars that you lied us into and that killed and displaced millions of innocent people?
“America’s greatest challenge has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity,” Bush wrote in his 500-word June 2 statement. “The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union. The answers to American problems are found by living up to American ideals — to the fundamental truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by God with certain rights.”
Little of this sentiment was present during the long, bleak years of Bush’s presidency. There was no unity under the auspices of justice, racial superiority was the watchword of the party he led, and the rights he would champion were gossamer as spider silk under his relentless assault upon the rule of law.
Any honest reckoning of the presidential administration of George W. Bush must acknowledge the deep racism that was the seed corn of his power and influence. Indeed, it can be argued that Bush may never have become president at all if his 2000 campaign did not smear rival John McCain with whispers that the Arizona senator had fathered a Black child out of wedlock. Pro tip: It wasn’t the wedlock bit that drove those conservative South Carolina voters into Bush’s camp, and he knew that full well.
Racist fear-mongering after 9/11 was the backbone of the policies enacted under Bush’s regime. That inflicted fear greased the skids into an Iraq War that many knew was founded upon lies and deception. That inflicted fear made the torture of fellow human beings, many of whom committed no crime or violent act, just another story in the wartime news cycle.
Smugly secure in the knowledge that he would suffer no consequences for flagrantly harming people of color far away, Bush smirked his way into retirement virtually untouched by the rule of law, because that is what the racist white power structure does for its favorite sons.
This callous, profit-driven absence of regard for Bush’s Muslim victims bled bright red into the floodwaters that subsumed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In a way, there exists a parallel between the presidential response to Black residents in New Orleans after Katrina and the current presidential response to the death of George Floyd: In both cases, the suffering was made unavoidably real when it was captured on television, yet neither president acted as if he gave a single damn.
The entire world bore witness to each horrific event, even as one president played country music and failed to act for days while the other used tear gas and flash-bang grenades against protesters to set up a self-aggrandizing photo op.
Nothing changed after Katrina. It is to be hoped that history will not be repeated in the aftermath of the police murder of Floyd, stacked as it is upon the police murders of so many other people of color. One thing is certain: The ersatz sentimentality of George W. Bush is nothing more or less than salt poured into a gaping wound.
Indeed, the idea that any card-carrying Republican can lay claim to the mantle of racial healer is preposterous on its face. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” exploited the nation’s latent racism to great effect, and Ronald Reagan doubled down on that tactic when his time came around. George H.W. Bush made profitable use of racism with the infamous Willie Horton ad during his 1988 campaign, and his version of the “War on Drugs” illegitimately incarcerated a generation of Black men. For the elder Bush, the use of racism as a route to power was a tidy gift from father to son.
From racist gerrymandering to the demonization of immigrants to the manufactured fiction of the Black “welfare queen,” it is all of a piece. The Republican use of racism as a purposefully divisive political weapon was explained in explicit detail by Lee Atwater, mentor to George W. Bush’s favorite attack dog, Karl Rove. Atwater gave an interview in 1981 while he was working in the Reagan White House, and his words leave little room for interpretation or spin. He explicitly stated that once Republicans realized that saying the N-word would backfire on them, they strategically opted instead to “say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff…. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
There would be no President Donald J. Trump without President George W. Bush, and there would be neither without the institutionalized racism that elevates and coddles them right along with the party they represent. For Bush to speak now about “the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice” while the nation burns upon the racist pyre he labored to construct verges on performative obscenity.
George W. Bush popping up to lament the state of the nation in this moment is more or less equivalent to having the guy who burned your house down 12 years ago stop by to ask if the batteries in your fire alarms are fresh.
Bush is a war criminal, a torturer, a smash-and-grab thief, a documented liar, and a pinnacle avatar of the racist white power state. People like him are responsible for entrenching all that is wrong with this country, and I want no part of his ideas on “healing.” There are some stains that can never, ever be removed.
Tell your story walking, George. The bandage you’re offering is already soaked in blood.