BYE, GEORGE: I KNOW HE DIDN’T GET IT

 

 

George Bush with his campaign manager Lee Atwater, the two men who used racism to rev up Bush’s presidential campaign against Dukakis by unleashing the Willie Horton ad, a dog whistle as loud as those guitars they are playing in their geeky white-guy modes.

When hearing of the death of George Bush, I felt a bit like I do when I see a film or play I don’t like. I almost always remain silent about it in a public forum, and one can interpret my silence any way one wants.  But after thinking this through a bit, I guess I can write a few words.

These are the things I have thought as I am having my second cup of coffee this morning and reading revised histories about the guy and the more pointed comments from my HIV/AIDS activist brothers and sisters who lived through his 12 years in power, which include his servile years under Reagan – although Barb was a bitch to Nancy, who gave as good as she got. Don’t think any love was lost there. As a gay man, I kind of feel the same way about George Bush.

I long ago called the Bush enterprise the Bush Crime Family before the Trump trash of grifters ever arrived in the White House so it’s hard for me to be nice about the guy without being a bit hypocritical in the manner of all eulogies offered when a public figure dies – especially a president. Opponents and supporters alike say lofty things about folks who could get down in the gutter politically. Therefore, here are some of the things that sprung to mind:

Willie Horton.

Lee Atwater.

Dick Cheney.

Clarence Thomas

The ACT UP demonstration in Kennebunkport when, if I remember correctly, he had more sympathy for the town’s merchants’ lives being disrupted than he had for those living with HIV/AIDS and their lives being disrupted by disease and death.

And this quote from his 1992 campaign, “I can’t accept as normal life style people of the same sex being parents. I’m very sorry. I don’t accept that as normal.”

The House of Bush and the House of Saud were long ago intertwined before Trump came along. Trump is a chump compared to those two criminal families shared interests. Read Craig Unger’s book about them.

When people talk about Putin’s having served in the KGB as an intelligence officer before he was president I always mention that Bush ran the damn CIA before he ascended to power.

He was also the head of the RNC during Watergate and when he ran for the Senate in Texas, Nixon said of him that he was “a total Nixon man. He’ll do anything for the cause.” He did.

I appreciate the guy’s service in WWII.

I appreciate his civility and faux humility – especially in comparison with the crook and con and vulgarian now in the White House. You don’t get to be president by being humble.

He lived a very long life. I can’t be sad by someone dying at the age of 94. Indeed, just as politics is comparative, so too I feel that compared to all those who died of HIV/AIDS during his 12 years as Vice President and President, he was blessed. They died very young deaths. Their lives were cut short for lots of reasons but one of the main ones was the purposeful indifference of George Bush and others of his political ilk. So today that is what I feel for a 94-year-old man who has died: indifference.

Oh, and again: Willie Horton. I’ll never be indifferent toward racism and how it is utilized politically. George Bush wielded it. I will not forget that. Today, I commemorate his racist cynicism as I commemorate his service.

It’s complicated.

####

I woke up today, two days after George Bush’s, death feeling even sadder regarding it, but not the kind of sadness others are feeling or, I think, for the reasons they are feeling it. I feel sad because I am having a kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-like disorienting feeling about how Bush is being praised as a good and kind man, a civil gentleman, an avatar of decency and I have to square that as a gay man with the guy we railed against and fought against as we felt the heel of his conservative boot on our dying necks. I’ll let African Americans weigh in on his Willie Horton ad and his allegiance to the racist Lee Atwater and his vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1990. But as a gay man – one who is HIV positive – I am feeling much the way I felt when we fought in the streets and the press and molded our anger into action and fought for our very lives against Reagan and Bush and were paternalistically and maternalistically told to calm down and behave and how we were hurting our own cause by those not a part of it – and indeed stood in opposition to it – and by queer quislings who felt their own white privileged power threatened. Why couldn’t we all just die more politely?

But most of all there was the purposeful indifference back during the Reagan and Bush years that met so much of our passion and our activism. The utter banality of its evil – that kind of dull-and-bored-by-us indifference to the plague and the suffering and the death that was sweeping through our lives. The attempt to shunt us aside. Those who are praising Bush as a good and decent man – a civil and kind man – are doing that again with their warnings not to misbehave by posting comments on their threads about what the man did or did not do re: HIV/AIDS. They – you, if you are one of these people purposefully ignoring us again – are guilty once more of a purposeful indifference toward us in this man’s death just as you were in his life. Just as he was. So in that his death is not only reminding us of how kindness and civility and gentlemanliness can camouflage a deeper political and cultural cruelty once more, but also how it felt to be ignored in our suffering and our pain and our deaths by the indifferent among you. You’re still indifferent. And it still hurts.

###

In the days to follow, I felt very raw  about all the people on my Facebook feed and in the media continued to fawning Bush and hone his hagiography and made those of us who were remembering the hundreds of thousands who suffered and died from AIDS during his 12 years in the Reagan/Bush and then the Bush/Quayle administrations feel as if our anger then just as our anger now – hell, even those deaths back then – was all just so, you know, unseemly.

It’s made me realize how the struggle for justice never ends – even against those who are purportedly friends and allies.

Politesse is not justice.

Kindness is not goodness.

Cruelty can be civil.

So many still have to learn those lessons.

Onward.

  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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