Former president George W. Bush has spent his post-White House years out of the limelight. He famously declined to attack his predecessor, Barack Obama, stating, “He deserves my silence.” This past weekend, Bush appeared to change his policy of political science, taking thinly veiled shots at Donald Trump, to rave reviews from the Washington establishment and the mainstream media.
Bush addressed a rising culture of political intolerance, marked by a “discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” while taking Trump to task for seeking to fight the forces of globalization, and weighing in on alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.
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He singled out a new current of “nationalism distorted into nativism” while lamenting that “bigotry seems emboldened” in Trump’s America.
But fundamentally, how do the presidencies of Bush and Trump compare? Granted, it may be an inaccurate comparison given that we have eight years of Bush and the benefit of hindsight with which to judge his presidency. Yet, Bush and Trump generally seem to be a disappointment to the libertarian movement. However, Trump may prove to be less of a disappointment than Bush.
Take foreign policy. Trump was popular with libertarians, in part, because he showed aversion to the kind of boots on the ground nation-building that let to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which resulted in 400,000 civilian deaths and massive destabilization in the region. It’s rather unseemly for Bush to call out Trump for recklessness in the wake of the catastrophic decisions made in his own administration.
Take free trade. Bush railed against Trump’s protectionist policies, but he appears to have a short memory regarding the steel tariffs that he slapped on foreign imports to prop up the domestic steel industry. This is basically the textbook definition of protectionism.
Granted, some of Bush’s commentary did ring true. Take this passage: “At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”
Donald Trump has certainly not helped in this regard, and he would be well-advised to set aside the personal attacks and focus on public policy. That being said, Bush again seems to have a short memory regarding the activist base of the Democratic Party…a base that is significantly more radical now than ten years ago. This was the base that despised and demeaned Bush on a regular basis, and certainly contributed to the dehumanization and animosity of which Bush speaks.
Ultimately, Trump has shaken the Bush/Clinton/Obama establishment to its foundation. For better or worse, American politics will never be the same.