George HW Bush’s Death Prompts Shameless Historical Negationism [Opinion]

From 'racist war criminal' to resistance icon.

George H.W. Bush arrives for the coin toss prior to Super Bowl 51 between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.
Al Bello / Getty Images

From 'racist war criminal' to resistance icon.

“It’s a racist ad. You’re already wining this issue. It’s working for you. You’re stepping over a line. You’re going to regret it,” longtime Republican operative Roger Stone complained to George H.W. Bush’s campaign director Lee Atwater. Stone, now widely thought of as the embodiment of the Republican Party’s full embrace of radical alt right politics, recounted and paraphrased the conversation in an episode of PBS‘s Frontline. The ad, according to the Intercept, meant to make it clear that George H.W. Bush, unlike his 1988 Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, would not tolerate crime. The ad, according to the publication, also made it clear that Massachusetts murderer Willie Horton was black, and his victims white. On his deathbed, Lee Atwater apologized for the ad. Bush did not.

“The United States cannot and should not tolerate laws that systematically target communities of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union writes about the so-called war on drugs. Widely considered to be a failure of epic proportions targeting predominantly black and minority communities across the United States, the war on drugs is undoubtedly part of Bush’s legacy. George H.W. Bush was busy escalating the war, while his own son Jeb — he would admit this 40 years later — was getting high in his college dorm. Libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul famously used this against Jeb during a 2016 debate, “In the current circumstances, kids who had privilege like you do don’t go to jail, but the poor kids in our inner cities go to jail. I don’t think that’s fair. And I think we need to acknowledge it,” Paul said, according to Vox, calling out Jeb for opposing marijuana legalization, despite the fact that he himself apparently loved to get high in his day.

George H.W. Bush’s decision to further escalate the drug war is remarkably pale and inconsequential in comparison to his interventionist, brutal foreign policy. Under George H.W. Bush, according to the New York Times, the United States dropped a staggering 88,500 tons of bombs on Kuwait and Iraq. Seventy percent of the bombs “missed” their targets, killing thousands of civilians. This was no accident. The administration deliberately targeted civilians and essential infrastructure.

In 1991, the Washington Post wrote that instead of “relying on traditional concepts of strategic warfare,” Bush officials “sought to achieve some of their military objectives in the Persian Gulf War by disabling Iraqi society at large.”

George H.W. Bush’s involvement in Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair, according to History.com, is rarely discussed, but as Reagan’s vice president, Bush infamously refused to cooperate with the special counsel, the Intercept notes, refusing to be interviewed. He later went on to pardon six defendants involved in the affair, completing the cover-up and committing what could be considered obstruction of justice.

In 2017, as the #MeToo movement was exploding in the face of the American political and media establishment, eight different women came out accusing George H.W. Bush of sexual misconduct, according to BBC. One of them claims to have been only 16 when Bush touched her inappropriately. Bush’s spokesman acknowledged that the president was known to “pat women’s rears in what he intended to be in a good-natured manner.”

Historically significant, George W. Bush’s presidency was marked by hawkish foreign policy, racism, blockbuster affairs, ballooning deficit, and the erosion of civil liberties later continued, escalated, and cemented by his son George W. Bush, guilty of lying to draw the American people into one of the most expensive and unnecessary wars in the history of the country. Yet, much like his son, George H.W. Bush is being rehabilitated and having his public image re-branded. Statesmen, pundits, journalists, politicians, and regular Trump-resisting Americans got busy as soon as news of Bush’s death spread, indulging in shameless historical negationism.

Apparently, all Bush had to do to undergo a remarkable transformation was mildly oppose Trump. Now, once accused of being a racist war criminal known for doing everything in his power to destroy civil liberties, while overthrowing foreign governments, killing thousands of civilians, and dropping 88,500 tons of bombs, George H.W. Bush is “reuniting with his wife and young daughter in heaven.”

It did not take long for the Krassenstein brothers, a ubiquitously present pair of Trump Resistance icons, to thank and praise Bush for opposing Trump by voting for equally militaristic Democrat Hillary Clinton. As evident from responses to one of Brian Krassenstein’s tweets, Resistance Twitter is head over heels for Bush.

“George H.W. Bush is a reminder that America didn’t always have a President who hates his country,” the other Krassenstein tweeted. While some, like Ed, may not consider spending millions upon millions of American taxpayer dollars on foreign intervention and to target black communities across the country while cracking down on civil liberties hatred, a few maybe do.

Of all the unintended consequences of Donald Trump’s atrocious presidency, a particularly dangerous one is rarely, if ever, discussed: Shameless historical negationism. Thanks to Donald Trump — thanks to bipartisan inability to acknowledge that Trump’s presidency is not a deviation from standard American politics, but rather a more open and vicious continuation of a decade-long tradition — George H.W. Bush has been rehabilitated.