George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 shocked me: how could it still be “too close to call” at five a.m. the next day? Almost all of the American media hated him throughout 2004—once Saddam Hussein was captured in a hole in the ground around Christmas 2003, public opinion and, more noticeably, the pitch of the media and people in entertainment started to turn. Keep in mind that Michael Moore was booed in 2003 for saying, “We live in fictitious times” at the Academy Awards in his Best Documentary acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine. The next summer, he beat his own record with the highest grossing documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 9/11, the only work of his that will endure, the only piece of pop art that man has produced that has any real value.
That movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and while you may say that’s France, the head of the jury was Quentin Tarantino, someone who never would’ve bowed to a political pick. He allegedly told Moore that, “I just want you to know it was not because of the politics that you won this award… You won it because we thought it was the best film that we saw.” Tarantino also told The New York Times in 2009 that Fahrenheit 9/11 “was a movie of the moment,” and for an apolitical person like Tarantino—whose response to the question “How did 9/11 affect you?” was that he saw the same thing in a Hong Kong movie made a couple years before—Moore’s movie was never going to endure.
But the men and women of the Bush administration have never left me, and lately they’ve been dropping: first Donald Rumsfeld, now Colin Powell in the same year. Eighty-four, cancer, “COVID-19 complications,” a life lived—and that’s all you can say about a man that can’t be separated from the men he worked for, a man who lied to the world at the U.N. about the urgent need to invade Iraq and disarm their doomsday devices. The AP’s obituary was less nauseating than others, but it still features the phrase “Trailblazing General” in the headline. Rather than running for President in 1996 or 2000, Powell jumped onto a sinking ship. AP: “Powell’s tenure, however, was marred by his 2003 address to the United Nations Security Council in which he cited faulty information to claim that Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons never materialized, and though the Iraqi leader was removed, the war devolved into years of military and humanitarian losses.”
“Faulty information?” They lied to the world. This kind of mealy-mouthed apologia was something I never expected in 2004, but my dad was right: he said that whenever Bush dies, like Nixon and Reagan (who had just kicked) before him, the media will get on their knees, light candles, and writhe around in their juices of worship, unable to ever fully condemn an American president to the doghouse. In the end, even the worst ones become simply “dogged,” “difficult,” and “challenged” in time. Naturally, I’ve been thinking about how Donald Trump will be thought of in 20 years, and though it may sound inconceivable now, I know from experience that he too will be rehabilitated, because my dad was right: George W. Bush is still alive, and he’s treated like a teddy bear by the media and by air-headed liberals who “just want things to be normal again,” still deranged by Trump and his gang.
Now, as one friend often says, “We have no President.” Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are nominally in charge, but we don’t see them. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t ended, but much of daily life, professional and recreational, has resumed, in whatever attenuated form. We are trapped in a waiting room, and comfortable people with nothing to do (older liberals) are going to start missing Trump in a year, not 20. As with Bush’s grotesque “cute friendship” with Michelle Obama, those same liberals who on Monday called Powell “the last good Republican” will be clamoring for Trump standup sets if the pandemic continues for another year. His stooges, including Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and blast from the past Anthony Scaramucci, landed media gigs almost immediately. Now, getting the freaks from the sideshow to go on CNN or The Masked Singer is one thing, but Trump himself is still haram: none of his Mar-a-Lago rants, speeches, or soliloquies have been aired live or in full by any of the major cable or network news channels, and his rallies in the South have been covered with the same perfunctory derision that Bernie Sanders got both times he ran for president.
But once again, my dad was right. If you were walking and talking in the summer of 2004, you remember what half of America and all of the media thought of George W. Bush, and to an 11-year-old, it seemed impossible for him to win again, let alone be remembered fondly in the future. He’s not even dead yet, and I can already see the disgusting obituaries exaggerating his “heroism” and “courage” in the aftermath of 9/11. Unless someone else really pops off, the image of Bush on top of the pile at Ground Zero will run with his obits over ink and pixels describing him as the last Great American President—and, perhaps most importantly, a good, polite man.
If that monster can be rehabilitated by the same media that hated him so viciously less than 20 years ago, there’s no way the same won’t happen to Trump. Except his rehabilitation will happen at Warp Speed, because even if no one can admit it, millions of people across the world miss Trump and his antics. They may not want him near “the big button,” but they miss his Twitter. They miss his soundbites. They miss his jouissance. And Americans are a very forgiving people.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith