The Trump White House already resembles a far more extreme version of the disastrous Bush administration.
In yet another post-election example of wish fulfillment, there are rumors circulating that president-elect Donald Trump won’t actually stay in office all four years because he won’t want to do the job. After Trump met with President Obama, we heard reports that he “seemed surprised” by the scope of the job. We have also heard that Trump won’t want to sleep much in the White House and that he is likely to spend more time at Trump Tower. Then there is the idea that all Trump wanted to do was win, not actually lead. The New York Times reported back in July that Trump stated that he wouldn’t rule out quitting after he had won.
But before you get too excited by that prospect, we need to remember the presidency of George W. Bush, because all signs suggest that Trump will be a lot like George W. — only worse. Trump may not do the job, but that won’t mean he’ll step down, and it won’t mean that his tenure as president won’t screw everything up.
Let’s start with the obvious — there is no reason why Trump needs to stay in the White House or do much, if any, of the job. He can take a play right out of George W.’s book and go on endless vacation while outsourcing the job. Don’t forget that during his eight-year presidency, Bush took 879 days of vacation, including 77 trips to his Texas ranch.
And before you celebrate the idea of the orange-faced goon staying away from Washington, remember who Bush left behind to do the work. As Trump assembles his transition team and floats ideas for cabinet members, there is an uncanny resemblance to the Bush administration. Many think that it was the absolutely horrific team that Bush assembled that fueled the disaster of his presidency. Trump shows sign of doing him one better.
From Mike Pence (our new Dick Cheney) to Michael Flynn (our new Donald Rumsfeld, even if he is sitting in Condoleezza Rice’s old office as National Security Advisor), there is simply no reason to think that the advisors to Trump will be anything but worse, more extreme versions of the team that ran things under Bush. In fact, I am willing to venture that after Flynn takes over we will be wishing for the days of Rumsfeld and his torture memos. Rumsfeld will look restrained next to the guy that Politico calls “America’s angriest general.” And if you thought John Ashcroft was incompetent as attorney general, wait until you see what happens when Jeff Sessions gets going. Paul Krugman described Ashcroft as the worst attorney general in U.S. history — my guess is he’ll have to revise his assessment after Sessions is confirmed.
While Steve Bannon may be no match for Bush’s Karl Rove, Trump has Sarah Palin on a short list for secretary of the interior — a spot that Bush’s pick luckily made largely forgettable. The cabinet picks are still being bounced around and aren’t yet definitive, but there is not one name in the running that shouldn’t be causing you to panic. Trump has no one who remotely resembles Colin Powell on any short list.
Those imagining that Trump will be “a uniter, not a divider” need to remember what actually happened under the presidency of the guy who first uttered those words. Despite the fact that Bush ran under a banner of “compassionate conservatism,” we now have proof that his presidency “began a period of previously unmatched partisanship in our politics.” It’s worth noting that Trump has not once, not ever spoken of compassion as a core political value. In fact he ran a campaign that had dividing our nation as a key goal. So we have every reason to believe that he will make the polarization caused by Bush seem cute.
The fact that both Trump and Bush lost the popular vote is only one of the many pattern matches to their campaigns. From election fraud to election rigging, the campaigns had much in common. Both candidates had highly elite upbringings and yet somehow managed to fashion themselves as folksy, regular guys who would stand up for average America and represent the “silent majority.”
Bush couldn’t pronounce the word “nuclear” and Trump can’t speak in a full sentence but both of them will have had the nuclear codes. They both seem incredibly dumb, but Bush’s dumb lacked the aggressive, mean, bullying tone of Trump. Bush often looked confused, like he didn’t understand the words on the teleprompter. Meanwhile Trump often looks unhinged and downright nuts. Once we first see Trump address the nation from the White House, we will be yearning for those bygone days when our horrible president simply looked like a deer in the headlights rather than a cartoon-character villain.
The Bush administration was the master of spin — lying to the public 935 times before taking us to war in Iraq, supplying constant propaganda, spying on citizens, intimidating journalists, and denying the public the truth. Meanwhile, Bush himself barely understood the Internet. In a 1999 Salon interview he wondered whether he needed to even engage with online media. Now we have a Twitter-obsessed reality TV-trained president, who not only uses social media to harass critics, but also plans to sue any reporters who publish pieces critical of him.
Bush sat there quietly, silently fuming while Stephen Colbert delivered one of the most satisfying roasts in comedy history. Can you possibly imagine thin-skinned Trump handling that? It’s more likely that our political comedians will end up in jail.
I’m not going to take you through the thought process of imagining what will happen if Trump has to face a 9/11. I’ll only remind you that Trump has openly supported torture, assassinating the families of terrorists, arming nations with nuclear weapons, dismantling NATO, and using nuclear weapons in Europe.
What’s really way worse is that some of Bush’s stated policy positions look downright moderate and reasonable in comparison to Trump’s. There is the fact that Bush actually advocated for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, unlike Trump, who thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The fact that Bush’s actual environmental policy was a total disaster is only a dark omen for what is possible under Trump.
If you really want to feel sick, recall that Bush campaigned as a centrist and was considered a very similar candidate to John Kasich when they were both in the 1999 primaries. Bush campaigned on bringing “integrity and honor” back into the White House. Compare that to Trump, who campaigned on banning Muslim immigrants, building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and repealing Roe v. Wade. On Bush’s second day in office he reinstated a policy that required any non-governmental organization receiving U.S. government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries. On Trump’s second day in office he could well nominate a Supreme Court Justice.
There is really no end to the various ways we can look at all that was bad under Bush and imagine how it can be worse with Trump. The Bush administration decimated our founding values, led us into permanent war, destabilized global politics, destroyed our economy and divided our nation. And Bush looks “low energy” when compared to what Trump can do.
Bush is consistently named as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, and he left office with a record low approval rating. There’s no reason to think that Trump can’t do worse than that. It’s time to stop fantasizing about Trump quitting the job and to start dealing with the reality that we may have just elected the very best worst president of all time.
By Sophia A. McClennen