Yesterday, former President George W. Bush gave a speech at his self-named institute about the current state of politics. In the talk, Bush touched on a multitude of subjects, the main one essentially being “bigotry is bad and we should stop doing it”. Although it was not explicitly stated, many people have taken it as a reference to Donald Trump and his previous inability to properly condemn the white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville a couple months ago. As a result, Bush is being applauded for coming out against the sitting president.
This comes off the back of a couple favorable appearances of the former president, including his spot on Jimmy Kimmel where he comes off as a genial grandpa who you’d enjoy sitting around the house, laughing with. Additionally, his words this week were not the first of their kind from Bush, as he has previously called out Trump for his race-baiting. Unfortunately for him, his previous record as president completely debases anything he has to say about racism.
The most obvious of these actions that demonstrate his overall awfulness was his post 9/11 efforts to demonize Arab and Muslim communities through the passing of the Patriot Act. Among the disastrous outcomes of this bill included: monitoring Arab and Muslim groups through unwarranted search and wiretap, detaining and deporting thousands of Muslim men without criminal records, giving the Attorney General the right to detain non-citizens who have possible connections to terrorist organizations for indefinite periods of time, among others. Although the law was technically colorblind, the enforcement and implicit rhetoric implied that its creation was for the purpose of targeting these communities. As a result of these laws along with general fear-mongering by the Bush administration, hate crimes against people of color increased exponentially. To make matters worse, Bush started what would become the longest war in US history when he sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths and displacement of millions of people.
In addition to his racist actions, in the case of Hurricane Katrina, it was his inaction that exposed his disinterest in the health and safety of communities of color. After the storm hit, the city’s most vulnerable citizens who primarily people of color who could not evacuate and lived in areas of the city most susceptible to damage were dying, getting sick and desperate for help. While this was going on, George Bush was playing guitar in San Diego. Instead of immediately heading to the impact site, which most presidents do after natural disasters (see President Lyndon B. Johnson and Hurricane Betsy in 1965), President Bush took about 4 days to mobilize for Louisiana post-landfall, why he did not even bother touching down. His lack of leadership and empathy, although only one of many reasons, resulted in around 2,000 deaths, in addition to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of lives.
In totality, George W. Bush might go down as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Between his targeting of Arab and Muslim people post 9/11, along with his complete and utter failure to help the citizens of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that his statements about racism do not match his true feelings. However, some may argue that on one hand, his words can be considered impactful since some of his supporters who also support Trump may hear them and relinquish some of their enthusiasm for the current president. Although this may be slightly true, I’m skeptical of how much saying “racism is bad” can change one’s mind. Even then, we as a society have to hold people accountable for their actions, especially when the results of said actions are so disastrous. Nuanced perspectives of individuals are ok and important, but it should not result in the absolution of criticism, especially when the criticism is as well-founded as it is for George Bush. His speech yesterday, in no way, undoes the damage he caused.