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    Forgetting History at Our Peril: The Foundation George W. Bush Laid for Donald Trump

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    A few days ago, a friend who is very active in the LGBTIQ rights movement quipped that things were so bad with Trump he almost wished for the “good ole days” when George W. Bush was president. Our friend’s not alone in this type of misplaced nostalgia.

    Two years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accidentally substituted Bush’s name for Trump’s in criticizing the president in a nationwide television interview. She quickly caught herself, exclaiming, “I’m sorry, President Bush,” and adding: “I never thought I’d pray for the day when George W. Bush was president again!”

    But Pelosi was closer to the truth when she accidentally conflated Bush and Trump. Her 2008 assessment of Bush when he was still president summed things up more correctly. After wishing Bush well personally, Pelosi explained that, as president, he was “a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject.” Among many subjects we could add to that list are LGBTIQ rights, dignity, and equality.

    We’ll never forget the evening when Bush attacked LGBTIQ people in front of the entire nation in his 2004 State of the Union address. After first saying that all Americans “must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture and to send the right messages to our children,” he laid into lesbian and gay people, without every saying the L or G word.

    Referring to the Massachusetts decision finding marriage discrimination unconstitutional, Bush declared: “If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

    It felt like a dagger to the heart.

    Weeks later, he went full-bore, announcing his support for a federal constitutional amendment “defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife.” He warned that “there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not itself be struck down by activist courts,” and if they did, “every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage.” Not just sex-same relationships—any relationship.

    Bush and his key political advisor, the notorious Karl Rove whose own father was gay, devised a 2004 presidential campaign that exploited homophobia in order to divide and conquer. When Bush declared his support for the federal anti-gay amendment, a John Kerry spokesperson warned that Bush was using “wedge issues and the politics of fear to divide the nation.” She was right.

    During Bush’s tenure as president, anti-marriage equality campaigns in 31 of the 50 states took their cue from Bush and used his anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric to deprive same-sex couples and their families of our basic human rights.

    And Bush nominated Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, whom many consider to the right of Clarence Thomas, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Once on the Court, Roberts and Alito both voted to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act and vigorously dissented from the Court’s landmark decision establishing nationwide marriage equality.

    So far, Trump has been able to nominate two justices who together mirror Roberts and Alito: Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. And who nominated Kavanaugh and Gorsuch to the federal appellate courts, positioning them for elevation to the high court? George W. Bush.

    Further, thousands of LGBTIQ members of the military were discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during Bush’s presidency.

    The same year that Pelosi made her comments about Bush, Ellen DeGeneres interviewed Bush on her hugely popular talk show and positively gushed over Bush, dancing with him and exclaiming, “I’m so excited to have you here!” She asked him nothing about his record, even as Bush himself in the interview declared that “the nation needs a free and independent press … to hold politicians to account, including me.”

    DeGeneres mentioned nothing about all of the harm that Bush had caused to LGBTIQ people, including his opposition to her right to marry, thereby denying her access to the approximately 1,500 rights and protections that come with marriage. She never asked him to take responsibility for any of his actions as president.

    The ways that Bush’s presidency could be seen as laying a foundation for Trump’s go far beyond attacks on LGBTIQ people and cynical exploitation of prejudice against minorities for political gain. Recall Bush’s starting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in over a million casualties at a price tag of $4-6 trillion; his administration’s torture and inhumane treatment of captives, some of whom were completely innocent bystanders; Bush’s manipulating facts and misleading the public as to the basis for the Iraq invasion; his callous treatment of Hurricane Katrina victims, who were disproportionately poor people of color; and irresponsible tax cuts that, along with other flawed fiscal and financial regulatory policies, resulted in a worldwide economic crisis and the so-called Great Recession.

    It is noble not to hate those who cause us harm. But if we fail to hold them accountable for their actions and forget history, we do so at our own peril.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.