Frank Bruni of the New York Times has even written a column about the "obituary wars" between those who come to innocently praise Bush and those who come to crankily point to his many faults and crimes while his freshly embalmed body is still indecently at room temperature.
On Twitter over the weekend, the television writer Bryan Behar did something unconscionable.
He praised George H.W. Bush.
The former president had just died. In Behar’s view, it was a moment to recognize any merit in the man and his legacy.
Many of his followers disagreed. They depended on Behar for righteous liberal passion, which left no room for such Bush-flattering adjectives and phrases as “good,” “decent” and “a life of dignity.” How dare Behar lavish them on a man who leaned on the despicable Willie Horton ad, who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, who did too little in the face of AIDS, whose privilege often blinded him to need.
They lashed out at Behar. They unfollowed him. And they demonstrated the transcendent curse of these tribal times: Americans’ diminishing inability to hold two thoughts at once.I'm surprised that Bruni didn't blame Russian trolls for sowing such divisions among the rabble. But it's early hagiographic days yet. And to give Bruni credit, he at least admitted that his own Saturday column in praise of Bush 41 was just a tad over the top.
But rather than cast too much opprobrium on himself and his fellow liberal Bush fan club members, he casts opprobrium on people who, unlike Bush, are totally lacking in class and the ability to project bullshit with a smarmy smile and crocodile tears. Meanwhile, we should allow all the cyber-mourners to pseudo-grieve in peace and safety. Just because Behar had written a boilerplate condolence tweet praising Bush's goodness and his dignity and his patriotism didn't mean he was endorsing the points of blight on Bush's record, for cryin' out loud. Now all those haters are making him feel so terribly bad about himself, don't you see.
Grief-shaming is the new slut-shaming.
Lanny Davis, the Clinton lawyer who now represents Donald Trump consigliere Michael Cohen, is among the outraged, tweeting: "Any follower who dropped @bryanbehar for his kind words about this great and good man President George H.W. Bush reflects the worst there is in today’s politics. They only show affinity for the politics or hate reflected by @realDonaldTrump
Since writing my own post on Saturday to mark Poppy's entrance into the void, I let off some additional steam in the Times comments sections, which at least initially were rife with liberal praise for Bush. I felt compelled to throw a little acid on the sickening hagiography emanating like rivers of rancid honey from the Paper of Record. Although nobody accused me of liking or even being Trump as a result, the most common epithet hurled in my direction by Times readers was "churlish." One troll worried I might show up at his wake to cast opprobrium on his life. Unfortunately, he posted under a pseudonym, so I have no way of knowing whether the many funerals that I crash in order to deliver my unseemly diatribes against the Dead will ever find the right target. Sad.
But for the past couple of days, I've been striving to ignore the nonstop pageantry, with its star-studded cast of blood-soaked ruling class racketeers coming together to cry, laugh, share candy, hug each other or snub each other, and take selfies. I keep thinking back to Ronald Reagan's week-long funeral in June 2004, when I was confined to the prison of a hospital bed and tortured by the wall-to-wall coverage. Shutting off the TV was next to impossible, because the remote kept falling on the floor and I didn't want to keep calling the nurses to deal with my TV dilemma when they had more pressing emergencies to address.
So now that I have the physical freedom to avoid such things, I do so with gusto. It also helps enormously that I cancelled cable several months ago.
With Bush 41's funeral and burial lasting only a day or two more, we can hopefully bury the Obituary Wars right along with the actual Bush body. Until it starts all over again. I am predicting Henry Kissinger to top the charts at the next Hagiography Hit Parade. Sadly, I give Dick Cheney, whose young transplanted heart remains helplessly trapped and beating in his aged body, a couple more years at least. Is anybody wondering, as I tastelessly am, what the movers and shakers will do when it comes time to bury Trump? It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for the liberal class to rehabilitate him, assuming of course that we still have a civilization in another few climate-changed decades.
George H.W. Bush is being effusively praised for remaining such a calm, collected, polite, serene old gentleman in the long dull decades of his post-presidency, much admired by the Aggrieved Club for his uncommon avowal of having achieved much peace and happiness in his life. His self-satisfaction is something all of us should emulate, apparently.
To which psychopathic mindset the late critical theorist Theodor Adorno replied in his Minima Moralia book of aphorisms:
A newspaper obituary for a businessman once contained the words: 'The breadth of his conscience vied with the kindness of his heart.' The blunder committed by the bereaved in the elevated language reserved for such purposes, the inadvertent admission that the kind-hearted deceased had lacked a conscience, expedites the funeral procession by the shortest route to the land of truth. If a man of advanced years is praised for his exceptional serenity, his life can be assumed to to comprise a succession of infamies. He has rid himself of the habit of getting excited. Breadth of conscience is passed off as magnaminity, all-forgiving because all-too-understanding. The quid pro quo between one's guilt and that of others, is resolved in favor of whoever has come off best. After so long a life one quite loses the capacity to distinguish who has done what harm to whom. In the abstract conception of universal wrong, all concrete responsibility vanishes. The blackguard presents himself as a victim of injustice: if you only knew, young man, what life is like. But those conspicuous midway through life by an exceptional kindness are usually drawing advances on such serenity. He who does not malign does not live serenely but with a peculiarly chaste hardness and intolerance. Lacking appropriate objects, his love can scarcely express itself except by hatred of the inappropriate, in which admittedly he comes to resemble what he hates. The bourgeois, however, is tolerant. His love of people as they are stems from his hatred of what they might be.This insight makes the statement about Bush from Barack and Michelle Obama seem all the more creepily revealing: "America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush. While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight - and all who were inspired by George and Barbara's example."
Their hearts are weighted down with big, chaste, hard boulders of appreciation for the way that Bush bequeathed unchallenged unitary executive powers to all his Oval Office successors and the well-monetized life that comes after "public" service to the oligarchy. They look in the mirror and they see George and Barbara reflected right back at them. It's a tiny club, and we ain't in it. Thank God.
****Here are few of my recent Times comments. The first, directed toward Frank Bruni's column, is mainly a critique of Twitter itself, because I was already suffering from churlish anti-grief exhaustion:
Tweets are not exactly the ideal venue for conveying nuance. And that goes for outpourings of grief and pseudo-grief, reactions to the outpourings, and revisions of the outpourings by the original (now a victim of gaslighting) tweeter, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
I never tweet. For one thing, you can't ever take back what you might have written in haste. I'm also sick of reading tweets, especially when they are gratuitously and regularly inserted into every otherwise thoughtful and nuanced article, including this one.
Why do people feel so obligated to tweet, anyway? This is an addictive (and might I say lazy) form of communication, which seems to reward the sender more than it serves to share views with the hordes of unknown recipients out there in cyberspace. Studies have shown that the Tweeter receives a satisfying jolt of dopamine for every new "like," follower, retweet and "x number of people are talking about this!"
Twitter is absolutely tailor-made for the dangerous either-or/ us vs. them, "you're an idiot and I'm not" synaptic brain-bursts that pass for political discourse and even basic thought these days. It's also tailor-made for the limited vocabulary of President Thumbs, which is all the more reason to boycott it.
That said, you simply cannot be president of this historically violent country without accumulating gallons of blood on your hands. So much of the "grief" for Bush seems so utterly platitudinous and obligatory and downright clubby.
I also commented on Maureen Dowd's weird and allegedly touching post-mortem, in which she casts herself as the main character in a decades-long madcap flirtatious relationship with Poppy Bush. I kind of sensed something like this was coming, given the maudlin pre-mortem hagiography she'd already penned about the man three years ago. (see my previous post.) Read her whole column, or just get the mawkish gist of it from the title: "The Patrician President and the Reporterette: A Screwball Story."
My published response:
This column can be interpreted on two different levels. First, it's the heartwarming story of how a journalist with working class roots forged a decades-spanning "screwball" relationship with one of the most powerful men on earth. Cue Hepburn and Tracy and the popcorn and the hankies.
Second, it's a case study of the mechanics of "access journalism." The D.C. press corps (up until the rise of Trump, that is) have long acted more as stenographers for the powerful rather than their adversaries, who act in the public interest. Thus, the very brief paragraph buried within this otherwise hagiographic piece that has Maureen Dowd "recoiling" at some of Poppy's racist and sexist behavior, before she is able to sweep them under the memory rug and wax rhapsodic about how this basically decent patrician gentleman deigned to let the "reporterette" into his rarefied world with all that flirtatious banter and gift exchanges and meals.
She dismisses the horrible things he did with the stock phrase that sycophants commonly use to excuse the powerful: "he wasn't perfect."
And most forgivable of all, he wasn't like Trump. He had class, he had manners, he had the upbringing to know how to protect his privilege with self-deprecation and jokes. Dowd "afflicted" Bush, but not too hard, and not too seriously. The subtext of this piece is that Poppy had her wrapped around his little finger while allowing her to believe that he was wrapped around hers.