George W. Bush delivered the speech at the Shanksville, Pa., Site where Flight 93 was shot down – thanks to the heroism of the passengers who revolted against their hijackers. Here’s the key bit (bold is mine):
“In the weeks and months following the September 11 attacks, I was proud to lead an extraordinary, resilient and united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from ours. A malicious force seems at work in our common life which turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. Much of our politics has become a naked appeal for anger, fear and resentment. This leaves us worried about our nation and our future together. “
Bush did not mention Trump’s name there. He didn’t have to. If you are alive and have been living on planet Earth for about 5 years, you know exactly who Bush is talking about with those words.
Since becoming a candidate in the summer of 2015, Trump has spent his time and energy desperately trying to arm what divides us. And he did it for a simple and selfish reason: pure political interest.
Trump understood from the jump that there was (and is) the power to stir up resentment and anger. He addressed his victimization message directly to white Americans who were barely clinging to their dreams of being the middle class and said a) I understand you b) it’s not your fault and c) c ‘ is the fault of the “elites”.
(Box: The biggest prank Trump ever played on the American electorate was that he, a privileged kid who spent his entire adult life in New York City and made a name for himself in high-end luxury , was sort of the voice of the shrinking white worker.)
Trump, proving he never learns anything, released a statement on Monday denigrating Bush. “He shouldn’t be lecturing us about anything,” Trump said in a statement issued through his Save America PAC. “The World Trade Center fell during his surveillance.”
Trump’s entire 2016 (and 2020) campaign was built on the idea that the elites were there to fuck the average (white) guy. Here is a particularly revealing riff on this front of 2018:
“I hate it. I meet these people – they call them ‘the elite’. These people. I look at them, I say, ‘Is that the elite?’ We have more money, we have more brains. , we have better houses, better apartments, we have better boats, we’re smarter than them, and they say they’re the elite? We are the elite. You are the elite. We are the elite. “
What lies ahead, to use Bush’s expression, “anger, fear and resentment”? Unfortunately, we already know the answer to this question. January 6 is what happens. An armed insurgency of Trump supporters fueled lies about the 2020 election and convinced they had to, uh, take back their country.
What Bush is trying to do is offer his party a different path. A path where what we have in common takes precedence over what sets us apart. Again, Bush (it’s long but important):
“On the day of America’s trial and mourning, I saw millions of people instinctively grab the hand of one neighbor and rally to the other’s cause. know.
“At a time when religious bigotry could have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. This is the nation I know.
“At a time when nativism could have sparked hatred and violence against people perceived as foreigners, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome of immigrants and refugees. This is the nation that I know.
“At a time when some saw the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I have seen young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. This is the nation I know.
“It’s not nostalgia, it’s the truest version of ourselves. It’s who we have been – and what we can be again.”
(By the way, am I the only one who has heard echoes in this speech of James Earl Jones’ famous “people will come” speech in “Field of Dreams”? Especially this line from Jones: “This field, this game – it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of everything that was good once, and it could be again. “)
Bush’s argument goes like this: In our worst time, when hatred and division could have overwhelmed us all, the opposite happened: we came together. Which means that in this time of polarization, division and, yes, hate, it could happen again.
Bush’s speech is then rightly understood not only as a denunciation of Trumpism but also as a call to our best angels. It remains to be seen whether this call will fall on deaf ears.
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