Remember way back in season one of Game of Thrones (or book one of A Song of Ice and Fire) when we all thought Jaime Lannister was evil incarnate? In the very first episode, he commits passionate incest and then cavalierly kicks an inquisitive child (Brandon Stark) out of a window. The fall paralyzes the 7-year-old from the waist down.
(What a bastard! How could he! Well, he’s going to be the villain in this story.)
But then we met his nephew/son Joffrey and flay-enthusiast Ramsey Bolton and suddenly Jaime’s transgressions seemed, well, forgivable. It’s not a perfect parallel, as Jaime’s eponymous king-slaying was rather heroic and saved the people of King’s Landing from being burned alive by wildfire. There’s a poetic tragedy to the arc of ol’ one hand. But, I’m veering—on a surface level, Jaime Lannister and George W. Bush are enjoying the same glossy rebirth; they are both direct beneficiaries of a comparative softening. We are gazing through a new lens. The calamity of Trump has made all other modern presidents (including the aforementioned disastrous one: GWB) seem more successful and presidential and coherent, and even, dare I say, eloquent.
After staying away from the spotlight for much of the Obama presidency, W is back with a book of portraits and stories about veterans. The book itself seems like a noble venture, and he’s certainly not the worst painter in the world. But accompanying the book release has been a publicity tour which has seen the former president being treated by Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen Degeneres, and others as if he’s just this sweet guy who did his best. While I see where this type of thinking comes from, as W. never struck me as a particularly evil man, just an impressionable, and incompetent one—if that was his best, it wasn’t enough. His best cost a lot of people their lives.
George W. Bush’s approval rating was 22% (the lowest number on record) before he left office for a reason. Following 9/11 he thrust us into two wars—one of which was the terribly misguided result of stovepiping intelligence and was started without the approval of the U.N. security council and thus, was/is considered by many to be illegal. We lost nearly 7,000 troops in these wars, while over 200,000 civilians were killed.
Moreover, let’s not forget that he was against gay marriage, he banned federal funding for stem cell research, he gave tax cuts to the richest among us which bolstered income inequality, he pulled us out of the Kyoto Protocol which would have limited greenhouse gas emissions, he gutted the Clean Water Act, he scaled-back the Endangered Species Act, he ramped up the war on drugs, he, and more specifically his vice president, were war profiteers: Cheney’s Halliburton made an estimated $39.5 billion in contracts during the Iraq War, he inherited a strong economy and steered us into the Great Recession and those are just some lowlights.
When it comes to presidents, the populace loves to retrospectively idolize. Prior faults become less pronounced—logic and reason get washed away by a wave of misguided humanism. Bill Clinton enjoyed—and enjoys—a similar reception. There comes a point when, as a collective, we stop seeing the President and start seeing the person. We divorce the person from the office as it were and begin to treat them like run-of-the-mill, super celebrities. It didn’t seem like that was going to happen for W. however. Over the last eight years, opinions of the former president were, by all accounts, stagnant and negative.
But after only a month and a half of Trump, Bush has been reinvented as some sort of folksy, yet comparatively intellectual and empathetic conservative. Just because things seem worse now, and our leader is a boorish buffoon, it doesn’t—or rather, shouldn’t—erase Bush’s legacy of war, inequality, and environmental regression.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.