Hopeful, rousing, presidential—former U.S. President George W. Bush’s video message calling for national unity during the COVID-19 crisis struck all the right notes we have learned not to expect from Donald Trump. True to his vindictive form, Trump lost no time mocking Bush, whose message quickly went viral after it was released on May 2.
The exchange put the contrast between the two men’s characters in stark relief. On the one side, an unstable and irresponsible Trump, presiding over an administration that has more to do with Barnum & Bailey than Franklin D. Roosevelt or Harry S. Truman. On the other, Bush—not a poseur but a wartime president who staffed his administration with deeply experienced officials who took foreign policy seriously in a way that seems alien to the grifter commune that has coalesced around Trump.
Indeed, Bush was guided by a concept of national interest that wasn’t solely defined as his own personal political interest, even if the two are necessarily linked. Bush was capable of ethical thinking, most notably in the case of AIDS in Africa, which he directed his administration to help address. Nor was he a bigot or an open supporter of white supremacists in the way that Trump surely is. And even as he was waging war against countries whose populations were largely or almost exclusively Muslim, he urged Americans not to demonize Islam, and unhesitatingly shared the stage with Muslim clerics.
As president, Bush was considered stubborn, incurious, and inarticulate—but capable of learning from his mistakes, especially during his second term, when he worked to repair the damage he had done to the trans-Atlantic alliance during the first. He was rigid but not always. Trump, on the other hand, is flexible to the point of incoherence and incomprehensible on policy issues.
However, the focus on the two men’s real character differences—along with nostalgia for U.S. leadership before Trump—obscures the similarity of the two administrations in the way they handled their defining crises, COVID-19 and 9/11.
Read the full article here in Foreign Policy.