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You could say, “It’s the history, stupid” — because Donald Trump is the presidential ideal the Republican Party has been driving toward for generations. Pander to racists and homophobes to shore up the base? Check. Give tax bonanzas to the already wealthy? You got it. Block universal healthcare at every turn? Damn straight. Cater to a vicious gun lobby to solidify a vital voting block, school shootings be damned? You bet. Deny scientific consensus in order to rape the environment? Well, of course — it’s profitable.
Trump did not arise out of a vacuum. President George H.W. Bush’s domestic policies were part of a template that fell fully into place when a flimflam real estate mogul/reality TV star became Leader of the Free World.
Since his death, at age 94 this past Friday, Bush 41 has been getting some boffo reviews for his one-term presidency. Many have bestowed laurels on him for his grown-up handling of the collapse of Communism. Among other prudent acts, Bush, along with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators (remember when that was a thing?), hashed out the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which sought to keep nuclear armaments and technology out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states, as the Soviet Union disintegrated. The patrician Bush was less successful in dealing with the economy and the day-to-day struggles of average Americans. He had been a loyal vice president to Ronald Reagan, and had stood by as the Gipper presided over an upward redistribution of the nation’s wealth that put a glitzy patina on a widening gap between rich and poor — the latter of whom the GOP stigmatized with such labels as “welfare queens.”
Bush had a reputation for decency and reticence, but that did not prevent him from using expedient racism and demagoguery when searching for votes. In the May 1, 1984, issue of the Voice, investigative reporter Jack Newfield detailed how Bush overlooked colleagues who disparaged minorities: “When Peter Grace, the corporate executive, insulted Hispanics by saying they were all living off food stamps, George Bush did not move his lips. When Earl Butz told his racist joke, George Bush had nothing to say. When James Watt ridiculed blacks, women, Jews, and the handicapped, George Bush stood mute.” Newfield labeled Bush’s pearl-clutching over Jesse Jackson’s supposed anti-Semitism “hypocrisy season,” pointing out the vice president’s selective conscience when it came to racism. Toward the end of the piece, Newfield made a plea that has at least as much relevance today as it did three decades ago: “What we need now are public figures of decency who can rise above politics and tribalism, and ostracize bigotry wherever they see it.”
Bush became president in 1989, promising a “kinder and gentler nation,” to which Reagan’s wife, Nancy, reportedly quipped, “Kinder and gentler than who?” The cover of the January 3, 1989, issue of the Voice answered Mrs. Reagan’s question — the tuxedo class, led by her husband, was laughing all the way to the bank as George H.W. Bush assumed the helm.
The laughter continued as Bush gathered his cabinet. In a piece titled “Texas Fried Ethics,” Voice muckraker Joe Conason reported on how Bush’s new secretary of commerce was big-time screwing small landowners back home in the Lone Star State.
Bush’s term was notable for his appointment of Clarence Thomas — fan of the Long Dong Silver series of porn movies — to the Supreme Court. Bush also presided over the first invasion of Iraq, forcing Saddam Hussein back to Baghdad after the dictator had invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. Bush flew bomber missions in World War II and survived being shot down by the Japanese, and so had some sense of how a conflict can spiral out of control. He prudently ended the conflict at Iraq’s border, thereby maintaining the tenuous balance of power in the volatile region. In 2003, his son, whose “missions” consisted of training flights over Georgia and Texas with the National Guard, invaded Iraq with as little pretense as Saddam had employed in his original attack on Kuwait, and America has been paying the bill ever since.
The elder Bush was known for a stumblebum rhetorical style. Once, when speaking to a group of insurance-company employees, he began with something he’d said to a voter who had prayed for him, and then segued into a line from a hit musical:
I said this to him: “You’re on to something here. You cannot be president of the United States if you don’t have faith.” Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial in the Civil War and all that stuff. You can’t be.
And we are blessed. So don’t feel sorry for — don’t cry for me, Argentina. We’ve got problems out there, and I am blessed by good health, strong health. Geez, you get the flu, and they make it into a federal case. Anyway, that goes with the territory. I’m not asking for sympathy, I just wanted you to know that I never felt more up for the charge.
The June 23, 1992, issue of the Voice, highlighted “the focus thing,” the upper-crust president’s maladroit attempts to connect with the hoi polloi —as Bush himself had once put it, “the vision thing.”
As the 1992 election season heated up, the Voice questioned the motives behind the Iraq war, in a story headlined “Anatomy of a Scandal: How Bush Armed Saddam, Then Painted Him as Hitler and Called for War.”
The paper then zeroed in on the president’s increasingly negative, fear-mongering re-election campaign (a tactic his son would repeat twelve years later). In the September 1, 1992, issue, reporter Donna Minkowitz filed from Houston under the headline “I Was the Antichrist at the Astrodome: Can a Lesbian Report (and Survive) the Republican Convention?” In the first paragraph, she informs readers, “The most heterosexual clothes in my suitcase are gray wool pants, blue and white striped shirt, and pumps. I go through my hosts’ closets hoping to find a dress or two, but they’re just not that kind of gay men. I don’t own the right drag for the Republican convention.”
With election day nigh, the Voice informed voters about the financial shenanigans of Bush and his cronies. A reporter from Texas had dug deep into the savings and loan boondoggle, which had rocked America’s economy under Bush, and asked the question, “Who benefited from the S&L ripoff? Would you believe George Bush’s Houston pals, his campaign manager, his comptroller of the currency, and his landlord, not to mention the Republican Party, the Mafia, and the CIA? You should.”
The cover of the October 20, 1992, issue featured Bush chortling in his bow tie, recalling the “So Long, Suckers!” moment the Voice had captured in 1989, as Reagan took the money and ran.
Bill Clinton turned Bush Senior into a one-term president. The Voice, like progressives everywhere, was glad to see the back of Bush — but the paper was also prescient about the fact that the GOP was becoming more angry, bitter, and vengeful with every passing day. In an article titled “Bewitched: The demonization of Hillary Clinton,” contributor Patricia J. Williams pointed out that America was struggling with “the anxiety of impending Gender Trouble. Will this loose, unmanaged female, Hillary née Rodham didn’t wannabe Clinton, sit in on Cabinet meetings? Will she make his appointments?”
By that time, the Right had been vilifying Hillary for a solid year, ever since her husband had risen from the relative obscurity of the Arkansas governorship to become a contender for the Democratic nomination. That was in 1992.
Twenty-four years later, the GOP’s never-ending campaign of lies and hate finally paid off, and Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.