A Few Words On Acting Presidential
You already know this isn’t exactly a normal time. But, Netflix documentaries will get you thinking.
I’ve never given a tremendous amount of thought to George H.W. Bush. Recently, he’s been in and out of the news for stories of groping and terrible groping-related puns. All things considered, he’s gotten off a lot easier than the Lauer’s and the Spacey’s and the, um, CK’s.
Scrolling slack-jawed and drooling through Netflix the other night, as I am wont to do, I came upon a documentary titled “41 on 41.” The movie is, essentially, a series of rosy snapshots and postcards reviewing the life and times of GHWB. The roster of talking heads boasts former presidents Obama, W. Bush and Clinton, as well as other distinguished politicians, coaches, dignitaries, and Roger Ailes. So it isn’t perfect.
I’ve been accused of going far too easy on the Bush family on this blog in the past, so indulge me here. The documentary shares stories about Bush Sr.’s kindness, calm in the face of global unrest, and his penchant for hand-written notes to hotel doormen and foreign diplomats alike. It’s one-sided, as many of these types of documentaries are. There are stories of him saving classmates from hazing rituals, and tales of his remarkable ability to befriend Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Dana Carvey.
A young Condoleezza Rice served as a director in HW’s National Security Council. She told one story that seems utterly improbable today. As the Berlin Wall was being torn down, Rice, and a number of other advisers to the President, began offering advice on what he could say upon his arrival in Berlin. He needed to mark the occasion. The Berlin Wall was coming down. The leader of the free world, presumably, would be in town.
“No,” Bush told his team. “This is a day for Germany,” not a day for the United States to steal the spotlight. His response was similar to the one he issued at the disbanding of the Soviet Union. Restrained.
This was the most striking part of the documentary. Bush Sr. was not a particularly compelling figure. He wasn’t a fiery orator or ideologue. I have no interest in debating his policies here, or measuring his economic or social impact as President. In the history books, it seems he simply bridges the gap between the swaggering Reagan and Clinton eras. Fair or not, his steadiness as a politician and a person doesn’t play well in political sizzle reels.
The only similarity between Bush Sr. and the current denizen of the White House is their propensity for grabbing a handful of heinie that doesn’t belong to them.
It’s December 4, 2017. In the past week, Donald Trump has officially endorsed an alleged pedophile for United States Senate, retweeted unverified videos of terrorists with the intent of stoking unrest, possibly, accidentally admitted to obstruction of justice (unprovoked), claimed the FBI is in “tatters,” insulted the wrong Theresa May, and celebrated a major news network boycotting the White House Christmas party. I got this list by scrolling through his Twitter account. I’m not a political scholar. I’m a dope with internet access.
I think we’re all at a loss. How can anyone pretend to be comfortable with this pattern of behavior? I’ve seen someone in a Boston-area Dunkin’ Donuts actually say the word “asshole” because they didn’t like the manner in which they were given the change for their large regular and box of munchkins. We don’t tolerate jerks anywhere in our lives anymore. Except for the White House.
That documentary got my wheels spinning about our Commanders-in-Chief. With that office comes the obligation to be the free world’s moral compass. Policies and personalities aside, these two men may have had the same job title, but they couldn’t be any more diametrically opposed. Put Trump’s black, gaping absence of empathy and common decency aside. Bush Sr. could, if nothing else, leave a moment alone. He could direct attention at those who deserved the credit, even if they made their home on the other side of the aisle. Trump is incapable. He is incapable of others taking spotlight even if they reside on his side of the aisle. A small man does not grow with age.
Take all this for what you will. There’s no telling what will be made of George H. W. Bush’s legacy as time wears on. He issued an apologetic, if overly-explanatory, statement about his recent behaviors. We’ll see what sticks. Trump is now drudging up his Access Hollywood tapes, and, hope you’re sitting, is suddenly questioning their validity? Everyone knows they’re real. Trump himself already said they were. And now we’re talking about them again. Is he just a master of distraction? Playing four-dimensional chess? Bloated doofus who actually doesn’t feel any remorse? Who’s to say. Could be anything.
Sometimes, you just need to write something out to come to a specific conclusion after watching a documentary on Netflix. And that is, no one will be directing a documentary about how Donald Trump once saved classmates from hazing. No one will come to his rescue when this ends. Perhaps, no one was ever there at all.