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In a bookstore a few days ago, I took note of George W. Bush's latest tome, a book devoted to displaying his amateur efforts as a painter, the post-presidential hobby he took up because he was bored and didn't quite know what to do with himself without unnecessary wars to launch, natural disasters to ignore, or malapropisms to share with the press.

george bush paints

Retired heads of state who paint are not "unpresidented." Eisenhower painted and across the pond, Winston Churchill was a fair hand with an easel and a canvas. Had he made it to retirement, Adolph Hitler surely would have taken up his brushes again. In fact, if he'd gotten the recognition he'd sought as a young artiste wannabe, the world might have been spared the misery he visited upon so many as he sought less benign outlets for his "genius."

Dubya's no genius, of course, not in any realm of human activity, and this book of paintings of "heroes" who just barely survived one or both of the two wars he sent them to fight would never have been published if it had been based on his skills as a painter or as a president. But Bush seems to think he's honoring the victims of his folly with these paintings, even though it's not hard to see the marketing of the book as just another exploitation of their service, and their willingness to pay big personal prices for a war that did no discernible good at such a very high cost.

Bush seems to think he's honoring the victims of his folly with these paintings, even though it's not hard to see the marketing of the book as just another exploitation of their service, and their willingness to pay big personal prices for a war that did no discernible good at such a very high cost.

As I flipped through Bush's book, some of my old and well-exercised antipathy for this man and his misdeeds began to rise in me once more, a familiar sensation. For more than eight years, his follies, foibles, and crimes against compassion provided me with fuel and fodder for a couple hundred columns, essays, and other fulminations against this over-privileged frat boy and the neo-con cronies who used and manipulated him so successfully.

Like Reagan, he left an awful lot of wreckage in his wake. Bush accelerated Reagan's assault on the standards we set for people who seek the world's most powerful post, a collapse of expectations that seems to have begun once we, as a nation, decided that a washed-up B movie actor was just the guy to lead us, and that an affably ignorant but pliable figurehead chosen to serve the interests of his rich special interest backers couldn't possibly do too much damage.

So much for that notion.

But, as I replaced Bush's non-book back on the stack of yet-to-be-sold copies, a little wave of charity for this most limited of men washed over me. I thought of those ubiquitous posts from right-wing "friends" on Facebook during the Obama years, all featuring pictures of Dubya accompanied by the taunt "Miss me yet?" as though they thought they were reminding us all of just what a "good" president looked like, a white one, for starters.

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That recurring meme—"Do We Miss Bush Yet?"—suddenly didn't seem so preposterous question. Compared to Donald J. Trump, even POTUS 43 was beginning to seem sane, reasonable,competent, almost smart, even presidential. His innumerable gaffes, his compendium of Bushisms ("Is our children learning? " "…put food on your families.") have begun to seem like eloquence when placed alongside Trump's vulgar or inane tweets, lies, and recorded comments ("…grab 'em by the pussy," etc.)

The absurdity of a Vietnam war hawk and prep school rich kid like George W. Bush as Commander in Chief seems less absurd than seeing Donald J Trump in that role, strutting around in his Commander-in-Chief duds decades after getting a bunch of rich-kid deferments for a "bone spur" so he, too, could evade service in that war that was so popular with right wingers who found ways not to serve in it. Even Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld can't match the villainous aura and doom-ridden malevolence and malfeasance of Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn.

If anyone had tried to persuade me back in 2006 or 2007 that we could go lower than Bush, I would have laughed. But then I never imagined we could go lower than Reagan back when the Gipper was stealing from Social Security, breaking up unions, and putting the mentally ill out on the mean streets of America. I never thought we'd forget so much, so fast.

But we did. It is hard to imagine disasters before they arrive, before they take root in our political life. So, George W. Bush looks pretty good compared to what we have now, what's being done now, the direction we're now headed.

We should not be fooled, however, by those Republicans who offer themselves up as "moderates" or "mavericks." Jeb was the "moderate" in the last field of loons, but he was just better "bred." Other than that thin veneer of East Coast prep school polish, he was just another thief on steroids, another high-ranking general in the class war that has been so successful in redistributing so much wealth from the many to the few. When it gets down to cases, it's always the same old shit. Tax cuts for the wealthy, bupkis for most everyone else. Along the way, there are stops to pay homage to racism, homophobia, sexism, and war profiteering, but the bottom line is always the bottom line for these guys, whether they call themselves moderates, compassionate conservatives, or whatever it is Trump & Co. are.

So yeah, I'd rest a tad easier if we could trade out Trump for a return to those somewhat saner days of Bush & Co., but only because Bush did something reckless every year or so. The rest of the time he was mostly just a pathetic buffoon led around by Dick Cheney, the oil men, and the defense contractors. Now, however, every news cycle shows another brick in the wall of human decency crumbling, and every day the evidence of the pillaging that is about to begin is easy to see as the piractical plutocrats rush into the breach. It's all ramping up and about to come down on us, as is the "defense" budget, the benefits for Wall Street CEOs, and the general looting of the treasury. The vultures of the health insurance industry who feed off the road kill on the American healthcare highway are just starting to spread their wings before settling on the carnage below.

Those guys who survived Bush's misguided adventure in Iraq now are "honored" by his efforts as a post-presidential hobbyist. Might Trump or Paul Ryan spend their padded retirement years painting pictures of the victims of their cuts to health care, portraying their victims by producing their "art" in images of America's sick people who weren't lucky enough to count themselves among the well off? Could Trump or Ryan or any of the other callous pricks who so cavalierly talk about cutting Medicare or Medicaid paint over the vicious harm they are proposing? Who would give a rat's ass if they painted pictures of the dead and dying until hell froze over. It wouldn't redeem them. wouldn't expiate the anxiety and pain they are sowing, or mean jack shit to the people they are so callously hurting.

If there are future artistic endeavors forthcoming from these criminals, however, it's likely the whores in the media will do their bit to push those "art" books., In this country, money talks and bullshit walks, and if you don't generate the money, no one is ever likely to hear you at all.

jaime oneill

Jaime O'Neill