IF ELLEN DeGENERES is former President George W. Bush’s friend, fine. But she should stop promoting her delusion that she’s making some extraordinary contribution to the “Can’t we all just get along” canon by sharing nachos with a war criminal.
“When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean ‘only the people who think the same way you do.’ I mean, ‘be kind to everyone,’” DeGeneres said on her talk show, after photos of her having a grand old time with Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game last week went viral.
In these divisive times, DeGeneres thinks she’s imparting life lessons about undiscriminating kindness. Despite our differences, political or otherwise, we can find common ground, right?
Sure, kindness is great, but you know what’s better? Accountability for actions that wrecked the lives of millions. And Bush, unindicted, has faced none for his direct role in deaths, displacement, and forever wars.
He has never apologized for the cooked-up intelligence that plunged our post-September 11 nation into two devastating conflicts in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. Thousands of American service members were killed, and are still dying in Afghanistan, as this nation continues to fight the longest war in its history. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians died. Iraqi prisoners were tortured, raped, or died in US custody, their suffering mocked in photos at Abu Ghraib prison.
As president, Bush literally flew over drowning American cities and towns after Hurricane Katrina. In five states, more than 1,800 people died.
Now Bush, dethroned by Donald Trump as the worst president of modern times, has been remade as a cuddly senior citizen who paints bad pictures in retirement and gives former First Lady Michelle Obama hugs and candy at public events. And no, the most admired woman in the world doesn’t earn a pass for saying, “I’d love if we as a country could get back to the place where we didn’t demonize people who disagreed with us.” (Narrator: “We were never that country.”)
This is not about demonizing someone who “disagreed with us.” Bush’s policies cost lives and threatened civil rights.
In 2017, she cancelled a scheduled “Ellen” appearance by Kim Burrell after she discovered that the gospel singer made homophobic remarks. DeGeneres did the right thing, and her vaunted kindness stopped short of amplifying the career of an anti-LGBTQ bigot.
Yet now she and her wife, actress Portia di Rossi, are fine hanging out with Bush, who backed a failed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Making nice with someone who believes your community unworthy of basic rights isn’t kindness. It’s self-harm.
Unlike DeGeneres, that’s a luxury many can’t afford. Her wealth, celebrity, and white privilege allow her to safely view from a distance the kinds of onerous policies that Bush inflicted on the marginalized and disenfranchised — and that still resonate today.
Her world doesn’t intersect with black transgender women being brutalized and murdered in America, or those waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will decide if the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act protects them from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of course, one of the high court justices is Brett Kavanaugh. During his contentious nomination last year, he received a hearty endorsement from his former boss — Bush. The noted beer lover had the former president’s support even after Kavanaugh was credibly accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when the two were teenagers.
James Baldwin, who always tried to warn us, said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” That’s what Bush did. And DeGeneres is out here selling her historical amnesia as moral superiority, and treating with kindness a man who showed so little to so many.
Now, the only question left unanswered is what snacks DeGeneres may someday enjoy while yukking it up, in the name of kindness, with her hosts at Mar-a-Lago.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.