Monday, December 18, 2017
Recently, conservative columnist George Will, an unrepentant member of the "never-Trump" movement, announced that president Trump's strong endorsement of Alabaman Senatorial candidate (and accused pedophile) Roy Moore marked him as the worst president ever. The usually apolitical USA TODAY also published a similar editorial recently, stating that Trump's recent tweet about Senate member Kristen Jillibrand that all but called her a whore, made him "...unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or to shine George W. Bush's shoes". Other editorial pages across the country (and the political spectrum) have characterized Trump as leading us into new lows for presidential behavior.
It's an easy thing in our deeply divided country to dismiss a president we don't agree with as the worst ever; those words were often repeated by conservative commentators during the Bill Clinton years, and then were inevitably brought back during Barack Obama's reign. And now, with a deeply unpopular and divisive president in the White House, they are being spoken again (and not just by progressives). From his constant lies, boasts and childish insults, to his appointment of unqualified family members to important advisor roles, to his bratty insistence on tweeting, it's easy to see why Trump can be called the worst president ever. And while I certainly find his behavior despicable, I'm not entirely sure if he yet qualifies for that title. Despite all of Trump's flaws, he still may be above George W Bush.
From the beginning of his career, Bush seemed to represent one of the main things wrong with this country: that it's better to be born to a family of enormous wealth and privilege than to be someone who works hard and plays by the rules. An admitted heavy drinker and lazy worker for the first forty years of his life, Bush attended Yale entirely because of his family name and money, and was, as he himself characterized it, a "c" student. He then went into the family oil business and did poorly, never showing much initiative and eventually picking up a DUI arrest. At around the age of forty, he found Jesus, gave up alcohol, and decided to get into the other family business of politics. Just as he used his family name and money to get into Yale, he also used that name and money to raise support for his political career, often raising money from the same donors who supported his father before him.
And then there was the chaotic presidential election of 2000, which came down to the severely contested state of Florida; the closeness of the vote there led to all manner of law suits and recounts. Amidst all of that came the charge that hundreds of African American voters turned up to vote in the state and were told that their names were not on the voting list, this in a state where Bush's margin of victory was only around five hundred votes. On top of that, Bush's own brother, Jeb, was governor of the state at the time, making the appearance of corruption of the voting process a definite likelihood. Or to put it another way, because the presidency was something that George W Bush couldn't buy with his father's money, he had his brother steal it for him.
Even if you think that he won Florida legitimately, it was an undeniable fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by around half a million votes. This didn't stop him from swaggering into office like he had some overwhelming mandate. And then after 9/11, his approval swelled as the country was showered with global sympathy, which he then proceeded to squander with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Let's not put a fine point on this; the Bush lead Iraq invasion was one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history. The war was fed to us on a string of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction there, no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the war was obviously not finished quickly, the Iraqi people certainly did not greet American soldiers as liberators and oil revenues did not pay it. Instead, tens of thousands of Iraqi people and thousands of American soldiers were killed or wounded as the country fell into chaos and the war dragged on into an occupation. And as it dragged on, the Bush administration refused to cover the cost of the war, instead tossing it onto the national deficit; they even avoided a draft by hiring mercenaries to fight there at an increased cost to the tax payers. Meanwhile, the administration expanded the so called war on terror by endorsing torture techniques like water boarding and sleep deprivation, claiming that suspected terrorists were not subject to the Geneva convention.
To make matters worse, as the Iraq war was proving to be more and more of a quagmire, Bush ran for reelection in 2004 by openly endorsing a Constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage for gay and lesbians in perpetuity, making his the most openly homophobic campaign in presidential history, and putting him on the wrong side of history. Sadly, this strategy worked as he eked out a narrow victory against Democrat challenger John Kerry. In his second term, the Iraq war continued to be a mess, his response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was disastrous, and the revelation that his administration had wiretapped American citizens without getting warrants appeared criminal. In the middle of all that, he attempted to privatize Social Security, a plan that got less and less popular the more he talked about it, until his own party thankfully killed it in the senate. His approval sunk to levels lower than Nixon's during Watergate as he appeared sullen and angry. And last but not least, the financial crash of 2008, while not exactly the fault of his administration, caught him flat footed and made him look even more like what he was; a spoiled brat in over his head.
So, am I saying that Trump isn't so bad? No, he's absolutely terrible, it's just that he has yet to sink the country into an unnecessary and horrible war, or reside over the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. But, given his policy decisions and erratic behavior, such things don't not appear impossible in the coming years of his presidency. He just hasn't sank to the level of George W Bush yet, but he may get there.