“The Bush legacy—where to begin?” this magazine’s staff wondered in our 2008 September+October issue. It was hard to sum up the unrelenting damage done by the “Worst. Administration. Ever.” The obvious place to start was the horror of the Iraq War, which we’d reported on extensively, including a timeline of lie after lie that led to it. But there was more, much more to how Bush tore the government apart.
A great deal of what happened has been flushed out of collective memory—or at least less likely to be mentioned—with the more robustly obvious incivility (if no less evil) ascendent in the tea party and in turn President Trump. Yet disconnecting those strains of Republicanism and teasing out any real change on the right is a bit harder to see when you look back to 2008. At the very least, it’s not worth pretending Bush didn’t set up Trump, and it is harder to pretend Trump is a complete aberration.
Go check out our timeline of Bush’s “reign of error.” Look back at what David Cole said in 2008, with grave concern over the powers of an unchecked executive. And, of course, the lack of calling out a president’s blustering lying surely didn’t help us deal with Trump. All the seeds are there. Comparisons of “who caused this” or “who is worse” likely miss the point—Bush set up Trump more than we’ve probably talked about. In 2008, we wrote a whole issue grappling with how to fix the Bush era. I’m rereading to see what we still have left to do.