The Media's 'Bush Versus Trump' Fixation
There are few people more justified to speak out against President Trump than former President George W. Bush. It's not because Trump has trashed Bush's policies (as Obama did), or because he excoriated Jeb Bush during the Republican primary. That's comparatively mild stuff.
A bold line was crossed, however, when Trump channeled the unhinged, anti-war rhetoric of Code Pink and Michael Moore to accuse Bush of:
lying to the country about WMDs to take us to war in Iraq.
knowing about the 9/11 plot ahead of time, and choosing to do nothing to stop it.
Implicating a former U.S. president of war crimes and being complicit to the murders of thousands of Americans isn't "just politics" -- not by any stretch of the imagination. These were sick, disgusting displays, and no reasonable person could have blamed Bush if he had injected himself into the 2016 election to publicly declare Trump as being unfit for the White House.
But Bush didn't do that. He granted the election process the same respect he had famously afforded President Obama for eight years, withholding political critiques of those serving in, and vying for, the Oval Office. He has maintained that stance since Trump's election win, but you probably wouldn't think that if you've been reading news headlines over the past week.
Here's a taste:
"George W. Bush Slams Donald Trump: 'I Don't Like The Racism'" -- Huffington Post
"George W. Bush critiques Trump on travel ban, free press" -- Washington Post
"George W. Bush: I don't like the 'racism' and 'name-calling' under Trump" -- Politico
"Bush undercuts Trump a month into presidency after staying silent on Obama for 8 years" -- Washington Times
"George W. Bush: We need answers on Trump team ties to Russia" -- The Hill
These stories are in reference to a promotional tour Bush is on for "Portraits of Courage," a book of his artwork, featuring 66 paintings of military veterans. While appearing on news networks to discuss the book, hosts have naturally been asking Bush about current events and the state of our nation's politics. And some of the liberal interviewers having been doing everything they can to get Bush to slam President Trump.
This was most apparent in Bush's Today show sit-down with Matt Lauer, where Lauer presented the following questions:
"...although President Trump has said he hopes to unify the country, have you, in the first month, seen him do or say anything that, in your opinion, would be an attempt to heal the wounds of the election?"
"Even at the times where you were dealing with the worst criticism, where it must have been very difficult to hear and read some of the things that were being said by the press in this country, did you ever consider the media to be the enemy of the American people?"
"That's very different talk than what we're hearing today about a Muslim ban. Do you think the President's position on this has been well thought out?”
"...you listened to President Trump’s inaugural address, and he talked about ‘American carnage’....And the fact that so much has gone wrong in this country and so much is wrong. Is that the America you see when you travel around this country?"
As Newsbusters pointed out, Lauer also interviewed Bush in 2010 and 2013, and neither time was the host interested in Bush's thoughts of President Obama's job performance. You can probably guess why he wasn't.
As has been the case with all of this week's interviews, Bush has been careful not to criticize President Trump, but rather offer his general thoughts (when asked) on various issues (as he used to under Obama). In this case, the popular topics have been immigration and the role of the media in this country. But because some of those views obviously conflict with Trump's, many in the media have decided to present the discrepancy as an attack on our current leadership.
Only, it hasn't been an attack. Even Bush's thoughts on racism, in his highly-cited People Magazine interview, were about societal unrest and not the mindset of President Trump.
Unsurprisingly, people in the mainstream media are letting their biases create a narrative that is just too tempting to resist, and a number of liberals are loving the notion of Bush serving as foil for Trump.
For example: Progressive icon and meme-aficionado, George Takei, in response to the Today interview, tweeted: "You know things are bad when George W. Bush starts sounding like a member of the Resistance."
With all due respect to Mr. Sulu, Bush is sounding just like he did when he was our president. And at that time, The Resistance was regularly comparing him to Hitler.
But it's not just the Left that sees Bush's remarks as an assault on President Trump. Several on the Right do as well.
In a Joseph Murray piece for the Washington Examiner, Murray called Bush's praise of the free press a "back-hand" to Trump, adding, "Strong words from a man who was likely tossing cow pies while his Democratic successor was ushering in an era of failed liberalism."
TownHall.com senior columnist Kurt Schlichter tweeted that he liked Bush better "when he was not hassling the current president." He added that Trump's humiliation of Jeb was what motivated Bush's remarks.
American Thinker's J. Marsolo proclaimed that Bush had joined the "Opposition Party."
Laura Ingraham cried foul as well, and Edmund Kozak, writing for Ingraham's website Lifezette.com, took exception to this statement by Bush: "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. That we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive.”
Kozak called the remarks "apparent hypocrisy."
"...if Bush is truly so concerned about power-hungry presidents," Kozak wrote, "it seems odd that he stayed silent as Obama was issuing unconstitutional executive orders, using the IRS to persecute conservative organizations, or using the Justice Department to challenge voter-ID laws and launch politically motivated investigations into local police departments."
This critique is a bit silly because it suggests that Bush stepped forward to state concerns about Trump, when in fact he merely responded to questions during a book-tour interview -- an interview that he would have participated in regardless of who had won the presidency in November.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that few on the Right are arguing with the actual content of what Bush said. Instead, Bush's public stating of long-held personal beliefs is what they find offensive. They feel this way because Trump is now our president, and the media has been handed an opportunity to contrast the two points of view as a way of criticizing the current administration.
This is what happens when we prioritize tribes over principles.
Bush stated reasonable views on a few topics, but because they are in perceived conflict with Trump's views, Bush is vilified by people on the Right who don't necessarily disagree with him. At the same time, he's now being hailed by the Left who branded him the worst president in history.
Here's a fun little exercise for both camps:
If you're a liberal, and you thought that Bush was an absolutely terrible human being, and you're now citing his long-held positions to support your views, you might want to examine how you go about assessing people.
If you're a pro-Tumper or conservative, and you reflexively interpret someone saying the media should hold powerful people accountable as an attack on President Trump, you might want to examine why that is.
A little introspection is a good thing...for all of us.