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Opinion: George W. Bush leaves out an ugly truth

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In his second term in the mid-2000s, Bush was viscerally hated by political progressives, who saw in him a dangerous combination of right-wing zealism and weak incompetence. He had launched an illegitimate and disastrous war in Iraq. Its administration he was convicted for a wide range of wrongdoings, ranging from problematic to abominable (including torture and other human rights violations). Immigration was just one of those spectra.

But compared to current Republicans, immigration seems downright liberal. This is not a merit for him, it is a big mark against the Republican Party today.

Now, the former president is speaking, making media appearances promote his immigrant picture book and calling on Congress to lessen “harsh rhetoric.” He wrote a post in the Washington Post encouraging their party to be more humane and sensible about immigration: immigrants are, after all, human beings and also people who are vital to the American economy.

Bush expressed support for DACA, the deferred action for child arrivals, which gives undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship. He also proposed increasing the number of legal immigrants allowed to enter the country.

While he was president, Bush in fact has accepted a record number of refugees and asylum seekers and supported by bipartisan immigration reform effort this, while very imperfect (and eventually assassinated in the Senate), at least included a path to undocumented immigrant citizenship, in exchange for stricter enforcement of border security and laws requiring the legal working condition.

The bill was not passed, in large part because Republicans were divided on it, a harbinger of things to come.

The Republican Party today, as Bush himself has pointed out, is as nationalist, xenophobic, and nativist as any political movement has been in decades. Donald Trump has become the leader of the party, even out of office (the Republican Party did not even have a platform in the last election, simply promising allegiance to the whims of former President Mercury). And Trump is not only intensely xenophobic, but he was terribly willing to treat immigrants as if they were anything but human.

He compared immigrants to parasites, separate immigrant children of their parents (i he lost hundreds), and even turned the U.S. from a place that hosted more refugees than the rest of the world’s combined nations into a nation that accepted records low numbers of desperate people seeking safe refuge.

Of course, Bush’s view was far from progressive and stalled far below what almost any immigrant rights advocate would say is necessary. It is a conservative proposal and Bush is not radical, not even liberal. But his proposal does not dehumanize, insult, or inflame the resentment of immigrants, and it is sad that we are at a time when dehumanization, insult, and inflammation of anti-immigrant sentiment are the status quo of the Republican Party.

Bush too came out on NBC’s “Today” network showed and told presenter Hoda Kotb that the current Republican Party is “isolationist, protectionist and, to some extent, nativist.”
He is right, and his own Conservative leadership during his tenure did not exactly send the Republican party in a positive direction. But even the GOP of the early 2000s, that was already the case cynically changing towards the reactionary, it has deviated further to the right under (and after) Trump, who exploited the party’s worst racist impulses.

Here is the temptation to draw a clean line between the pre-Trump GOP and the post-Trump GOP, as if Trump were an unpredictable force that fundamentally changed the nature of the party. But this is not true.

Leaders like Bush and his father before him, saw Trump’s base all the time – racists who want to join a demagogue, people who voted to represent white male resentment instead of promoting their own (or that of any) higher interest. Researchers have found that for decades, rates of racial resentment have not changed, but Americans who are the most racially resentful have become increasingly associated with the Republican Party, its presidential candidates, and its political positions.
And scholars raised the question growing authoritarianism of the American right during Bush’s tenure as president.
The difference between Bush and party Trumps is that Bush whistling with dog to the base – made biblical references that surpassed the heads of secular Americans, while implying allegiance to white evangelicals, for example, who only partially delivered – and perhaps even decided to live with the discomfort of knowing they were leading a party that increasingly banking racial and gender resentment to gain power.

But Trump said what was not said before and adopted resentment not only as a path to power, but as a veritable battle cry. He drew what had previously been intentionally hidden and denied at the center of his movement.

That Bush is speaking now is certainly commendable, but it also conveniently underscores his role in laying the groundwork on which Trump relied. Certainly, Bush seems horrified by the end result, as we should all be. But while he points to the fact that he has become his party, he should pause and reflect on his own contributions.

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