I never thought I would miss our 43rd President, George W. Bush. And I’ve never much thought of him as a great, or even good, speaker. But the speech he gave at a conference convened by the George W. Bush Institute was simply eloquent, excellent, thoughtful, and compelling. After keeping a low profile for the past eight years, he spoke up to decry the fact that “bigotry seems emboldened”. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children”.
Why did George W. Bush choose to speak so forcefully, in a speech that did not mention 45 but was at least partly directed to him? Perhaps it was Charlottesville, since he and his father, 41st President George Herbert Walker Bush, issued a joint statement denouncing white supremacists, something that 45 simply could not bring himself to do. The younger Bush was blunt last week when he said, “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
I knew that I would miss our 44th President Barack Obama. Like his predecessor, he has kept a low profile since leaving office, stepping out very briefly to campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and to reflect on the challenges we face in our democracy. Like President Bush, President Obama did not refer to 45 by name, but his speech in Virginia was a repudiation of virtually everything our prevaricating “president” stands for. “Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed,” said Obama. “That has folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!”. Seemingly scolding the current administration, Obama said, “Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.”
Watching Presidents Bush and Obama reminded me of how far the quality of our nation’s leadership has fallen. I saw two men who, with absolute class, reminded us of our nation’s values and that which is repugnant in the current administration. The contrast is the persistent crassness of 45, an ill spoken, bumbling, coarse, and classless individual. He never met a fight he could not pick and escalate, never met an opposing viewpoint he could not demonize. He has belittled everyone he has disagreed with, from his own inner circle to football players he does not even know, calling them “sons of bitches”.
In his entire eight years of service, President Obama never disparaged his predecessor, President George W. Bush, even as he cleaned up some of his messes. In his several months of leadership, 45 has missed no opportunity to criticize President Obama. If I had a dollar for every time President Obama critiqued President Bush, I’d barely have enough money for a fast-food meal. If I had a dollar for every time 45 disparaged President Obama, I could dine at the nation’s best restaurants for a full week!
Class is visiting Walter Reed hospital to look in on wounded soldiers, or hosting White House luncheons for Gold Star families. Crass is calling widow Myeshia Johnson, never mentioning her deceased husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, by name, and telling her “he knew what he signed up for.” Class is refusing to disparage either predecessor or successor. Crass is trashing anyone and everyone, including his predecessor. Class is disagreeing with dignity and civility. Crass is name-calling, challenging people to IQ tests, and making fun of ill and disabled people, including war hero Senator John McCain.
To be sure, I don’t think that 45 maliciously called Myeshia Johnson in an attempt to cause her pain. I think he simply does not know how to talk to people, and we have plenty of evidence. The recent book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (Macmillan, 2017) explains that the sociopathic narcissist we elected is so fundamentally flawed that he could easily imperil our very survival by pushing us into war.
45 told Myeshia Johnson “he knew what he signed up for”. So did nearly half of our nation’s voters when they chose crass over class.