We’re living in extraordinarily disturbing times when former United States president George W Bush begins to look cuddly in comparison to the current incumbent.
A year or so ago, Vanity Fair magazine published a great piece titled “George W Bush’s cuddly comeback is the worst kind of nostalgia”. Warning that “we’re forgiving the devil we once knew because of the one we have now”, the article traced the comeback to Bush taking up painting after leaving office and to something about his “bumbling but not unskilful little projects – especially when coupled with his crinkly, chuckling face – was endearing”.
GQ magazine picked up on it: “Now with an even more reviled scumbag in the Oval Office, he has the chance to redeem his public image.”
The Ringer expanded: “Ironically, Bush now symbolises the happy alternative to the dark forces he and his team engendered.”
It is probably a combination of nostalgia, time lapsed, airbrushing, rebranding and Trump-induced shock that’s causing this bizarre phenomenon. Strange times indeed. As Prince said, “Sign o’ the times mess with your mind.”
‘The blood on Bush’s hands’
The Guardian reminded us that Bush “caused far more harm to the country and planet than Trump has so far, and maybe ever will. It was under Bush that the US invaded Iraq, murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians and destabilised the Middle East so thoroughly that it may take the entire 21st century to recover.
“He stocked his Cabinet with warmongering neoconservatives far more cunning and apocalyptic in outlook than any of the amateurs who populate Trump’s gang. These were men who dreamed of civilization-annihilating wars and found a president willing to transform their dreams into crackling reality.
The headline of The Guardian piece was memorable: “The blood on George W Bush’s hands will never dry.”
One person who will no doubt fully agree with that strong sentiment is Billie Joe Armstrong, the frontman of US punk rock band Green Day and songwriter of American Idiot. A massive hit from 2004, the song was inspired by Bush’s presidency and the unwarranted war in Iraq that he unleashed the year before and that is still raging today.
In a 2017 interview, Rolling Stone asked Armstrong if he looked back at Bush any differently now that they’re living through Trump’s presidency?
“No. Bush, as far as I’m concerned, is a war criminal,” he said. “With Trump, we have no idea. Right now, it’s just a freak show.”
Armstrong wrote American Idiot in reaction to how journalism has become reality television, showcasing war and violence while normalising it:
Don't wanna be an American idiot
Don't want a nation under the new media
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mind-fuck America.
It’s an infectious, singalong song and a staple in their live shows. During Green Day’s recent tour, the band updated it with a scream of “Fuck you, Donald Trump!”.
The band is also responsible for popularising the chant “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”, which they added to their song Bang Bang. It has become a common chant at antiracist and antifascist protests against Trump.
When Armstrong was asked in the Rolling Stone interview if he had been inspired to write new songs in the Trump era, he said: “I don’t know yet. I’m just kind of scratching the surface of that stuff.”
But he is by no means ignoring Trump’s shenanigans.
‘It won’t be tame’
Last year, he criticised the US president on Instagram for his infantile Twitter taunts against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, boasting about his “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear war button.
When a Trump supporter challenged him, Armstrong unleashed: “Well then, go fuck yourself, you stupid piece of shit. If that’s the way you feel about mass destruction and murder, then fuck off. Stay the fuck off my Instagram and don’t come back. Don’t listen to my fucking records. I have no problem telling ignorant fucks like you to go to hell. That goes for any other stupid fucks that think this behaviour should be normalised. Get the fuck out!”
Based on that post, it seems that when Armstrong’s inevitable song about Trump does come out, it won’t be tame – and the current American Idiot certainly deserves that rage.