American liberalism’s current iteration, which really came into its own during the Bush years, has for nearly a decade been pining for those years: first under the presidency of Obama, and now under that of Trump. During the era of the former, one observed a subtle sort of desperate, bamboozled aimlessness among American liberals: for eight years they had been bellowing that George Bush was almost literally Hitler, they had watched eagerly as Jon Stewart smirked and sniggered his way through a tiresome routine of pencil-tapping incredulity, and they had said things like “Not my president!” (They always say things like “Not my president!“). The Obama presidency, which to American progressives seemed like the complete logical complement of the Bush presidency, in fact seemed to leave liberals without much of a political raison d’être, which is why the Left spent most of the Obama presidency blaming Obama’s mistakes on George W. Bush.
Now that Trump is in office, the Left seems to be pining for Bush in a different way: “Bush was bad,” you’re hearing a lot of these days, “but he wasn’t Trump. (They always say things like “Bush was bad, but he wasn’t Trump.”) The New Republican is always Much Scarier than the Old Republican, an equation that compounds upon itself as the years go by: Picture it as, for example, Trump=Bush43(Bush41+Reagan), where of course the values of expression are themselves subject to similar processes, stretching all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower. It adds up quickly! And as the numbers grow larger, the average liberal is increasingly given to saying: “Gee, (previous Republican president) was literally Hitler, but (current Republican president) is literally literally Hitler! (Previous Republican president) was way better.”
Not so fast, Will Ferrel says:
In the guise of his frat-boyish Mr. Bush, Mr. Ferrell reminded the audience, “You might remember, the W. stands for wassssup,” and said that he had lately been working on his oil paintings and earning an online M.F.A. from the University of Phoenix.
Pointing to a recent poll showing that Americans now give Mr. Bush a 61 percent favorability rating, Mr. Ferrell said: “That’s right. Donny Q. Trump came in, and suddenly I’m looking pretty sweet by comparison. At this rate, I might even end up on Mount Rushmore, right next to Washington, Lincoln and I want to say, uh, Kensington?”
But before anyone started wishing for Mr. Bush to return to office, Mr. Ferrell said, “I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight and remind you guys that I was really bad— like, historically not good.”
He added: “Don’t forget, we’re still in two different wars that I started. What has two thumbs and created ISIS? This guy.”
Just in case you forgot. In truth, George Bush wasn’t a very good president, though to say he was “historically not good” is a bit of a stretch. One is obliged to point out that John F. Kennedy more or less ignited the Vietnam War proper—breaking the 1954 Geneva agreement in the process—and that conflict led to vastly more casualties than we’ve seen under the “two different wars” that George Bush spearheaded. Yet nobody has ever called Kennedy “historically not good.” I wonder why?
In effect Will Ferrel is signaling that the Left wants to have it both ways: we’re not to forget that George Bush was an economy-tanking, warmongering, Islamic-youth-radicalizing dummy, but we’re also expected to know that even by those standards Donald Trump is worse. This neat trick manages to avoid calling for any kind of meaningful reflection on the part of American liberals while falling into the same old enervating histrionics as before. And on it goes.
Perhaps the most puzzling thing about this whole charade is that, compared to what they saw as the defects of the Bush presidency, it is unclear why the Left is so acutely hysterical about the Trump administration thus far. Yes, Trump has done some things to anger liberals—pulling out of the useless Parish climate accord, say, and playing hardball on immigration law to the national embarrassment of Democrats—but overall it’s been kind of staid, at least when stacked up next to the genuinely overwrought response from the Left. Progressives’ most consistent and shrill accusation directed at the President—that he “colluded” with Russia to steal the election, or something—has thus far been utterly unsubstantiated, a running national joke that may very well end in total, abject humiliation for Democrats and liberals more generally. Indeed, there are good signs that the whole thing is on the verge of unraveling.
I would not put it past Donald Trump to be guilty of something, Russia-related or otherwise, but as of now the ongoing Russia investigation has all the appearances of a total loss on the part of the Left. Wouldn’t you , if you were a liberal, pine for the relatively simpler and more secure days of smug Daily Show-style politics? I would.