When Trump makes us nostalgic for past presidents

I was no fan of either of the Bush presidents.

But while watching a bit of Barbara Bush’s funeral, I found myself wishing they were back in the seat of government.

That is how far afield Donald Trump has taken a progressive Democrat.

I have to remind myself about style versus substance. It’s dignity I’m missing, not the Bush policies.

I have to consciously pull back from admiring George H. W., a man who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and chose Dan Quayle as his running mate.

I have to call to mind the list of George W.’s failures, especially the Iraq War, the Katrina follow-up, and the Great Recession.

On nearly every policy issue, liberals disagreed with Bush 43.

And yet: I don’t recall ever thinking that he or his father had disgraced the office of the President.

Bush 41 had a 73-year marriage to a woman he obviously respected, and so will Bush 43 if he and Laura live long enough. Both Bushes raised children they could feel proud of. (Well, I suppose Trump feels proud of his children, but for the wrong reasons.) They were committed to a loftier aim than lining their own pockets or feeding their egos. The father especially devoted his life to public service.

If Twitter had existed, it would have been unthinkable for either Bush to have used it to call people stupid, crooked, nasty, low-life, dopey, sick, phoney [sic], wacko, garbage, a nut job, a hypocrite, a sad sack, a lightweight. The list goes on — and, sadly, will go on.

Outrage over Trump’s behavior can zap our energy before we even get on to his policies.

At Barbara Bush’s funeral, Melania Trump was seated in the front row with the Clintons and the Obamas. The Bushes accorded her that respect the same day her husband tossed out another “Crooked Hillary” tweet. Ever gracious, Barack Obama, sitting next to Melania, chatted and smiled with her even though her husband misses no opportunity to disparage him. That’s what dignity looks like. That’s how an honorable president behaves.

If I’m going to be nostalgic for an earlier time — and how can we avoid being nostalgic? — I want to “go high,” as Michelle Obama so eloquently put it.

And going high means that dignity and decency ought to be the baseline, not the upper limit. The policies as well as the conduct of Barack Obama make up the standard for liberals to look up to.

Who knows whether Trump uses outrageousness to keep attention from his policies — I wonder whether he’s smart enough to be that calculating — but we need to guard against letting bad conduct take attention from bad policies. There are (just to mention some) the tax cuts for the rich, the easing of environmental regulations, the undermining of the Affordable Care Act, the assault on immigrants, the refusal to condemn Russian meddling in our political process, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court, the proposal to arm teachers, Cabinet appointees who want to dismantle the departments they oversee.

Gutting the norms for presidential behavior is serious, but it’s only one thing among many that make Donald Trump, using his vocabulary, BAD!



“Trump seems to think that if he accepts what his advisers recommend on even days of the month and rejects their recommendations on odd days, the result will be a strategy.”

— Stephen Sestanovich, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and Columbia University who served as ambassador to former Soviet states in the 1990s


Leave a comment
  • I bet the reason Ryan (speaker of the house) is leaving, he can't
    take it anymore. Working for Donald has to be tough. It's a revolving door at the White House. I think the guests at Barb Bush's Service
    were glad Donald didn't show up.

  • Once upon a time, Harry Truman was regarded as an ignorant, stupid man. He did not have the polish of FDR, but was plain spoken in his opinions, like them or not.

    One thing about Trump, like him (and you don't LOL) is that you know his positions. He has had more contact with the media in a year than Barrack Obama did in eight. Obama and the Bushes, and Bill Clinton were glib. Okay GW was not so glib, but he basically barfed out the Republican talking points.

    The only presidents I am nostalgic for are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Coolidge.

    Comfort can be gained in remembering the past. I hope it helps you.

  • Thanks, but I'm not sure it's comfort we should seek in these times. Outrage may serve a better purpose.

Leave a comment