Most of us are old enough to remember the Bush years. (Some of us are old enough to remember the first Bush presidency.) We remember “Bushitler,” “Chimpy McHalliburton,” “Bush doesn’t care about black people,” the awards for films depicting Bush’s assassination, Howard Dean speculating that the Saudis warned Bush about 9/11 and the president letting it happen, MoveOn.org running ads comparing Bush to Hitler, Keith Ellison comparing the 9/11 attack to the Reichstag fire . . .
One of the reasons Trump became president is because a sufficient portion of the electorate tuned out or disregarded the criticism of him from the Left. One of the reasons people ignored that criticism is because at least three good men – Bush, McCain, and Mitt Romney — were demonized as the irredeemable epitome of all evil by liberal voices for almost the entirety of their public lives. One could throw Sarah Palin in there as well — whatever else you think of her, she’s not a monster, and she’s done so much for families with children with Down Syndrome – as well as the ads featuring Paul Ryan pushing a grandmother off a cliff. When every single prominent Republican figure is the WORST MONSTER IN HUMAN HISTORY, people stop believing the criticism.
A few voices on the left recognized this. Right before the election, comedian Bill Maher had what appeared to be a painful moment of clarity:
I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy Bush like he was the end of the world. And he wasn’t. And Mitt Romney we attacked that way. I gave Obama a million dollars because I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much or yours. Or John McCain. They were honorable men who we disagreed with, and we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf and that was wrong. But this is real. This is going to be way different.But I don’t want our friends on the left to merely regret the past, I want them to learn from it... We don’t fix this by praising retired members of the other party, or wishing that everyone in the other party could be as reasonable as the one who deviates from party orthodoxy the most. We fix this by reasserting the unwritten rule in our political discourse that our opponents are not to be treated like inhuman monsters unless they actually do something monstrous. And mere disagreement on issues does not make one a monster! We think poorly of Harvey Weinstein’s donation of $100,000 to Planned Parenthood because an impassioned disagreement about when human life begins. But it’s his long history of sexual exploitation and cruelty that makes him a monster.