Last weekend, social media lit up over an online “Call to Unite” video released by George W. Bush, in which the former president spoke of the challenges our nation faces during the health crisis. He offered an inspiring, compassionate, message that championed America and called on citizens to put partisanship and other differences aside, and find creative and caring ways to support each other.
Check it out:
“I have no doubt — none at all — that the spirit of service and sacrifice is alive and well in America.”
“Let us remember that empathy and simple kindness are essential, powerful tools of national recovery.”
“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants — we are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise. God bless you all.”
The video (just under three minutes long) was accompanied with images of everyday Americans, and it was well received by many on both sides of the political divide who lauded Bush for his thoughtful and inspiring words. It even reminded some of his addresses to the nation in the wake the 9/11 attacks, when America was going through a different kind of crisis… and was in desperate need of comfort, hope, and leadership.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day. As of the time I’m writing this, nearly 70,000 Americans have been killed by the coronavirus. Any message of unity and encouragement should be a welcome one right now, including (or perhaps especially) from a former president who guided our nation through a storm once before.
But some didn’t see it that way. President Trump was predictably among them, and he took to Twitter to point out what he believed was hypocrisy. He led with a quote from pro-Trump Fox News commentator, Pete Hegseth:
.@PeteHegseth “Oh bye the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” @foxandfriends He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2020
Others quickly piled onto the narrative:
It’s a fair question @realDonaldTrump asked. Where was President Bush when the Democrats were trying to throw him out of the WH?
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) May 3, 2020
I’m sorry but @realDonaldTrump is right. Bush never said a word for 3 1/2 years as Trump was savagely attacked. Not a word over absurd impeachment. Not a word over witch-hunts. Not a word over spying by Obama. I don’t give a damn what W says. https://t.co/fyjtRuv8mB
— Wayne Allyn Root (@RealWayneRoot) May 3, 2020
The response was so obscene that it’s worth exploring a bit. Let’s start with a basic Rorschach test that I’ll go ahead and pose to my readers:
When you hear a former President of the United States delivering an uplifting, non-political message of hope and unity as we deal with a highly contagious disease that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, what pops to the forefront of your mind?
If it’s Donald Trump’s impeachment, you assuredly need help. (Really, call a doctor.)
One is a global pandemic. The other is a constitutionally enabled political process — one that Trump invited on himself.
No one died as a result of Trump being impeached. No one was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. No one feared for their life and the lives of others. No businesses, schools, or churches were shut down. No one lost their job (well, except those who testified under subpoena during the hearings). The economy didn’t go into free fall. No one was barred from visiting sick friends or family members. No one had to stay indoors, or wear masks, or struggle to find common household items like toilet paper.
Yet, Trump and some of his fawners see them as comparable situations — comparable national crises. If Bush spoke out on one, why on earth was he silent on the other?
My friend Angela summed up the mindset pretty well:
“Oh, I see how it is: you show up to comfort people when the school burned down, but WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I WAS IN DETENTION, HUH?”
— Angela (one of many) (@angelaisms) May 3, 2020
One of the most popular arguments made by Trump defenders is that our president shouldn’t be judged by his words, but rather his actions. It’s a politically convenient way of dismissing a lot of the infantile and ignorant statements that routinely leave his mouth. It’s also a dirt-low standard that those same people would never extend to anyone else, let alone another U.S. president.
But at times like these, a leader’s words matter more than ever. And my guess is that what particularly irritated Trump and his crew about the video is that it struck a chord with people. It touched people on an emotional level. Bush sounded how many believe a president still should sound in a time of crisis. His faith in God and the country he loves came across as authentic as it assuredly was. There was no bragging. No whining. No trashing of others. No images of supporters cheering at rallies. Just hope, praise, and encouragement.
His message was what a lot of Americans wanted and even needed to hear at this moment in history, and that includes many who trashed Bush (casting him as an idiot, liar, and war criminal) when he was still in office. It was a message our current president has proven incapable of delivering, at least with sincerity and consistency. And everyone knows it… including Trump.
For that reason, Bush’s words were taken as a personal slight, and perhaps an overstepping of one’s bounds. Thus, they were cheapened and met with absurd equivalencies by small people whose egos or political loyalties won’t allow them to consider the merits of a selfless, meaningful gesture during very hard times.
But that’s okay. The message was appreciated by millions. And even if it hadn’t been, I doubt W. would have minded. He certainly wouldn’t have complained about being disrespected, or treated unfairly, or anything like that.
As is the mark of a dignified American patriot, he didn’t do it for himself. He did it for his country. And I for one am glad such leaders still exist.