If you don’t think that some day you’ll be looking back fondly on Trump, think again: That day has already come.

Back in March 2016, I made a prediction:

If, God forbid, Trump is elected, some day, assuming we’re all still alive, we’ll be having a conversation in which we look back fondly, as we survey the even more desultory state of political play, on the impish character of Donald Trump. As Andrew March said to me on Facebook, we’ll say something like: What a jokester he was. Didn’t mean it at all. But, boy, could he cut a deal.

When I wrote that, I was thinking of all the ways in which George W. Bush, a man vilified by liberals for years, was being rehabilitated, particularly in the wake of Trump’s rise.

Yesterday’s speech, in which Bush obliquely took on Trump, was merely the latest in a years-long campaign to restore his reputation and welcome him back into the fold of respectability.

Remember when Michelle Obama gave him a hug?

That was Step 2 or 3. Yesterday’s speech was Step 4.

For years prior to that, our image of Bush was emblazoned by the memory of not only the Iraq War, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, of not only the casual violence, the fratboyish, near-sociopathic, irresponsibility, of Bush’s rhetoric of war (remember when, after the Iraq War was over, in June 2003, Bush turned to his Administrator General there, Jay Garner, and said, “Hey, Jay, you want to do Iran?”). It was also imprinted with the memory of the laziness and incuriosity, the buoyant indifference, that got us into war, not just the Iraq War but also the war on terror (the original sin of it all, if you ask me) in the first place.

All those now pining for the pre-9/11 George W. Bush, a man who took his responsibilities to the nation—and his duty to its people—seriously, an anti-Trump who, whatever his many flaws, at least had a sense of the gravitas of his office and its burdens, might want to have a read-through to what was going down in the Bush administration ca. August 2001.

Roemer then asked Tenet if he mentioned Moussaoui to President Bush at one of their frequent morning briefings. Tenet replied, “I was not in briefings at this time.” Bush, he noted, “was on vacation.” He added that he didn’t see the president at all in August 2001. During the entire month, Bush was at his ranch in Texas. “You never talked with him?” Roemer asked. “No,” Tenet replied.

And there you have it. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has made a big point of the fact that Tenet briefed the president nearly every day. Yet at the peak moment of threat, the two didn’t talk at all. At a time when action was needed, and orders for action had to come from the top, the man at the top was resting undisturbed.

Throughout that summer, we now well know, Tenet, Richard Clarke, and several other officials were running around with their “hair on fire,” warning that al-Qaida was about to unleash a monumental attack. On Aug. 6, Bush was given the now-famous President’s Daily Brief (by one of Tenet’s underlings), warning that this attack might take place “inside the United States.” For the previous few years—as Philip Zelikow, the commission’s staff director, revealed this morning—the CIA had issued several warnings that terrorists might fly commercial airplanes into buildings or cities.

And now, we learn today, at this peak moment, Tenet hears about Moussaoui. Someone might have added 2 + 2 + 2 and possibly busted up the conspiracy. But the president was down on the ranch, taking it easy. Tenet wasn’t with him. Tenet never talked with him. Rice—as she has testified—wasn’t with Bush, either. He was on his own and, willfully, out of touch.

But now that’s all forgotten. Or being forgotten.

It may be, however, when it comes to Trump’s rehabilitation, that things will move faster than I predicted, that Trump won’t have to wait as long as Bush to get out of the doghouse.

After all, Sean Spicer is now up at Harvard, tutoring the hopefuls of tomorrow’s ruling class.

And just after Roy Moore got the nomination in Alabama, Paul Begala was quoted in Politico:

What do they say in recoveries? You have to hit bottom? I thought that, with Trump, they [the GOP] hit bottom. But, apparently not, because Moore is worse.

And there you have it, the stage is already being set. Given the relentless march rightward of the Republican Party, there will always be something worse waiting in the wings, something worse that will inevitably furnish Trump with a retrospective glow—even though it was Trump who set the stage for that something worse, in the same way that it was Bush who set the stage for Trump.

So, here’s a message to everyone on Twitter or Facebook saying, gee, I never thought I’d be saying this, but next to Trump, George W. Bush really isn’t so bad: One day, I promise you, I guarantee you, you will be saying, gee, I never thought I’d be saying this, but next to TK [that’s editor-speak for “to come”], Trump really isn’t so bad.

Unless, that is, you get out of this terrible habit of burnishing the past—something you can only do because it’s no longer in front of you—and dehistoricizing the present.



  1. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 20, 2017 at 11:58 am | #

    Memory, meet Hole.

  2. Sandwichman October 20, 2017 at 12:41 pm | #

    “Burnishing the past” — polite for polishing the turd.

  3. kiptw October 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm | #

    I feel like The War on Drugs was a direct ancestor of The War on Terror, in just about every way.

  4. Arthur Reber October 20, 2017 at 1:21 pm | #

    Don’t disagree … But we need to factor in the roles of Cheney and the neocons. With different advisors … well, who knows.

    • Cassiodorus October 20, 2017 at 1:33 pm | #

      I’ve always found this desire to deny him agency to be quite bizarre. At the very least, he chose his terrible advisors and was therefore responsible for their actions.

      • Deadl E Cheese October 21, 2017 at 8:29 pm | #

        Not to mention W. Bush did make a meaningful effort to push the neocons, religious right, and Dick Cheney out of the limelight after 2004 and… well, look what happened in the second term of his Presidency.

  5. G Richard October 20, 2017 at 3:04 pm | #

    Yeah, that day – seven years from now – when we have 7 (or 8) Supreme Court Justices who make John Roberts look like a SJW.
    How comforting to know that they will be there for the next 30 – 40 years.

    • good2go October 23, 2017 at 10:55 am | #

      And most, if not all, appointed by “presidents” who did not win the election.

  6. Jim October 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm | #

    I guess I don’t know of anybody who thought pre-911 Bush was noted for his probity in tackling his duties as President. The late Molly Ivens wrote a terrific book about W called “Shrub”, which looked at his career prior to the White House. He was always a loser. He was gifted with business after business by his Dad’s business cronies and he screwed up all of them. Even in the case of the Texas Rangers (the baseball team), he was mainly involved with corruption around the team and its stadium. He apparently spent many hours as governor of Texas playing video games on the computer in his office (admittedly the office of the Texas governor is not a tough one). As President, he was very Trumpian in spending a lot of time on vacation and delegating a lot of governance to the evil Cheny, Rumsfeld and others. He broke the economy and allowed Congress to run up the debt bigly. The character of the Trump administration, in fact, owes quite a lot to how Bush’s administration operated just without the openly racist rhetoric.

  7. Dominic October 20, 2017 at 5:21 pm | #

    Harvard named Sean Spicer as Visting Fellow? Wow!

    • LFC October 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm | #

      The Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Govt at Harvard calls anyone they invite for more than a couple of hours a ‘visiting fellow’ or something similar.

      So if you’re invited to give a speech and talk with students for one day, you’re a visiting fellow. I don’t know exactly how long Spicer’s fellowship lasted or lasts, but it might well not be for more than 24 hours. Arguably, even that is too long in this case, but it does put the notion of a ‘visiting fellowship’ in this context into perspective.

  8. nihil obstet October 20, 2017 at 5:23 pm | #

    Nixon, having obstructed the Vietnam peace talks and been labeled a traitor by LBJ, was rehabilitated. His agent Kissinger is Clinton’s dear friend. Reagan, whose policies set the middle class on the road to extinction and the lower class on the road to increased immiseration, has been rehabilitated. He got more positive mentions at the 2016 Democratic National Convention than FDR or JFK or LBJ. The elites fight each other for the spoils, but then hug each other to maintain the legitimacy of the government, no matter how undemocratic or corrupt.

  9. nihil obstet October 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm | #

    And I forgot to mention Bush, Sr., he of Iran-contra, who is now routinely described as an elder stateman.

  10. Roquentin October 20, 2017 at 6:16 pm | #

    You are absolutely correct on this. The ruling class is going to use Trump as a vehicle to wash away the sins of all past political leaders by comparison. This is the flipside to the “Trump is uniquely awful” narrative so many liberals are pushing, and one necessarily follows the other. These are the rewards for refusing to identify Trump as the logical end result of 50 years of neoliberalism.

    Although, this was the goal of the ruling class narrative during the election as well. The elites in the Acela Corridor where almost unanimous in their support of Hillary. She was the favored candidate of the ruling class and they considered her to be a much more responsible steward of American capitalism and its imperial interests. Trump was too much of a loose cannon: unreliable, combative, ignorant, embarrassing, etc. He also crossed several “red lines” or at least gave lip service to doing so: not going to war in Syria, repealing NAFTA, being a little less aggressive towards Russia. In short he was bad for business, and had to go. This is why they trumpeted Hillary’s competency and experience so much. She had the best resume for managing US imperialism. It was obvious from the rhetoric, the now infamous “pied-piper” strategy, the sentimental photos with the Bushes and praises for Reagan from Clinton and Obama which were direct precursors to this.. The goal always was to use Trump as a sort of pariah so they could look virtuous by comparison.

    When 2018 and 2020 roll around, these same people are going to grab some neoliberal who is refined enough not to be openly sexist and racist and spend months on end screaming at us about how we have to vote for him or her or else, and if we don’t we’re as bad as Trump. In other words, the usual bullshit. Seeing Democrats hold hands with the Bushes turns my stomach, but it makes me gag because it just makes it clear just how little difference there is between our elected leaders. Just like in Vegas, the house always wins.

    • Donald October 20, 2017 at 9:42 pm | #

      Well said. I would add that Bush was in essence rehabilitated when Clinton was praised for her foreign policy experience, which of course includes her support for the Iraq War when the majority of Democrats had enough sense to oppose it.


      Most of the criticism of the Iraq War is rendered ridiculous by how little many of the critics care about it 15 years after it started. It never really ended. We still bomb cities there. Back in the Bush era it was supposed to have been one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions our country had ever made. Now it was a regrettable decision made by a lovable guy who has a painting hobby and people who shared Bush’s bad judgment and kneejerk militarism are praised for their foreign policy experience.

      The people I can’t understand are the self described lefties who think this is irrelevant now that Trump is in power. But clearly much of the Beltway opposition to him is about fear of his incompetence. They want a competent militarist in charge. Nothing fundamental is going to change if all that we have are power struggles between competing strains of militarists.

  11. Billikin October 21, 2017 at 1:47 am | #

    I doubt if I’ll look back fondly upon Trump. Nixon is better than our current crop of clowns, but I don’t look back fondly on him, either. And I would have voted for him if I could have.

  12. nastywoman October 21, 2017 at 5:03 am | #

    ”That day has already come”

    Yeah – as in teh homeland there is little difference between ”famous” and ”infamous”.
    We all need to shoot some Selfies with ”Celebrities” and Spicey is a great target – even I would love to have one and would title it: ”Me and Melissa” – and as I already have encountered Trump – I’m not so sure if we ever will fondly look back at ”Pigs”.

  13. mark October 21, 2017 at 5:19 am | #

    This is the opposite to the reputation of Tony Blair in the UK, who is being increasingly savaged by a Conservative press which forgetfully supported his sending of troops into the Iraq war.

    I also remember the Daily Telegraph editorial, a Conservative newspaper that had attacked most of what Blair had accomplished domestically, on the day that Blair stepped down, writing that Gordon Brown, who had replaced Blair as Prime Minister, that this Gordon Brown is no Tony Blair.

    And, from the UK, as we look upon the art of the deal playing itself out in the Brexit negotiations, it is nice to recall that May, Hammond, Johnson, Davis, and Fox, the five members supposedly in charge of the process, all voted for the Iraq war in 2003.

  14. Ronald C. Couch October 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm | #

    You know compared to Caligula, Tiberius wasn’t half bad.

  15. Tom October 21, 2017 at 11:20 pm | #

    Excellent, insightful piece, very good comments. This wall to wall narrative of normalization observed here is an indication of the trouble we’re in. The Begalla line regarding Roy Moore is a hilarious piece of it. When we’re looking at replacement Pence, or whoever, they’ll all say, he’s so much more moderate than Trump or Moore.

    For those whose memory of Nixon has become blurry and need a review of how violently evil he was, read Greg Grandin’s “Kissinger’s Shadow,” a brief, pungent book.

  16. Lichanos October 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm | #

    Nixon, Reagan, Bush…I have not forgotten how awful they were. When I saw that pic of Michelle hugging Shrub, I gagged. The most I can say for him is that he didn’t tweet, but he was just as dishonest as Trumpy.

  17. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 30, 2017 at 2:02 pm | #
  18. Jon Meltzer November 2, 2017 at 3:24 pm | #

    Exactly. Roy Moore will be the Republican nominee in 2024, and he could very well win.

  19. b. January 31, 2018 at 5:52 pm | #

    GWB will be a good man one day, and Obama will be considered a Great President. There is no truth on tombstones.

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