by Jonah Eatman
Photography Courtesy of Saul Loeb/Getty Images
History is the guidebook that Americans evidently prefer to skim.
Ostensibly intended to archive the past so as to improve the future, history still finds ways to repeat—or worse, outdo—itself. Indeed, history is cyclical rather than linear, and the continuation of this cycle lies in human hands.
In theory, our democracy makes it our responsibility to enact policies and elect leaders that write positive new chapters; in practice, however, reading history inexplicably produces more of the same. Freedom from British colonialism taught us the value of democracy, yet this democracy is tainted by corruption and greed; the abolition of slavery promised freedom for African Americans, yet Jim Crow marginalized this same demographic; in 2008, Barack Obama was elected to usher in a new era of progressivism in the wake of George W. Bush’s disastrous conservatism, yet in 2016, we elected Donald Trump.
If nothing else, history should teach us that we have learned nothing.
Following this tradition, the danger of Donald Trump’s presidency is twofold: it stands to implode democracy from within and to write a terrifying new chapter of history bound to repeat itself.
The bleak reality of the present softens the wounds of the past, and thus hindsight paints a simple picture. Bush, former president-turned-painter-of-weird-portraits, bowed out of the political arena after an administration marred by 9/11, the misguided invasion of Iraq and a very public feud with the Dixie Chicks.
Bush has resurfaced only sporadically since leaving office, most notably arm-in-arm with Michelle Obama at the opening ceremony of the Smithosonian National Museum of African American History and Culture this past September, and at Trump’s inauguration in January.
Harmless as he may seem in comparison to Trump, the restoration of Bush’s public persona is disturbing because it wipes the blood from his hands.
Bush’s most significant post-presidency endeavor is a tragically ironic book entitled Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, which contains painted portraits of military veterans—veterans returned from the war he started—and pairs them with individual biographies.
The press tour accompanying the book’s release landed him on daytime television, of all places, with Ellen DeGeneres, of all people, where the two discussed Bush’s difficulty operating a poncho during the inauguration in January and his thoughts on President Trump’s alleged correspondence with Vladimir Putin.
This conversation was unnerving: here was a decidedly unpopular president chatting and laughing with the über-liberal DeGeneres, as if time heals all wounds.
But those who lost their limbs and lives under President Bush’s command have suffered hardship beyond repair. His presidency may appear distant, but for those directly in his wake, pain lingers.
To rewrite history in such a way that downplays the harm he inflicted on this country is egregiously unjust; indeed, it is the present, not the past, which needs rewriting.
History has been gentle to Bush, though his administration was less-than-gentle to this nation. But history, of course, is incredibly subjective.
While many view the Bush era as a low point in modern history, others view it as a time of patriotism and the embodiment of “all-American values.” These same people felt neglected by Obama, who allegedly stood to take away their country, their guns and their confederate flags.
It is clear now, though, that Obama’s “negligence” of this constituency was for the best—those who felt ignored by Obama ultimately voted for Trump and spewed hate at his rallies, giving rise to bigotry and hatred in the process.
Trump’s rise has shaken politics to its core.
Today’s political climate renders our democracy a caricature of itself. At the helm of the wealthiest nation and a major world power, Trump fails to address the pressing issues of our time—which ultimately stem from the pressing issues of previous times—instead dominating headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Historically, early assessment of a president focuses on policy and public approval—but not Trump. In his first 60 days, Trump’s top headlines concern so-called “fake news,” alleged collusions with Russia and allegations that President Obama is spying on him by way of microwave.
Indeed, Trump’s presidency has been neither traditional nor productive, but rather a twisted example of the blind leading the blind.
But the president is not supposed to lead blindly; the president is supposed to look to the past to guide his constituents into the future. If history is any indication, this future looks bleak.
History cannot treat Trump the way it has treated Bush, for the precedent this sets is both alarming and dangerous. The well being of this nation lies beneath Trump’s diamond-encrusted feet, and his erratic style of governance (if it can even be called that) stands to undo eight years of Obama’s progressive legacy and pave a dark, winding road to disaster.