Parker: Trump would do well to grade himself against Bush

By Kathleen Parker

Donald Trump, the human ruler, as in measuring stick, is at it again, this time grading his performance as president.

Appearing on Fox News recently, the president gave himself an A-plus for effort, an A for accomplishment, and a C for communication.

He does seem to be trying hard — at whatever it is he’s doing — though it’s hard to see what his accomplishments are, other than a travel order that was tabled by the courts. No one would complain if he improved his communication skills.

While Trump was self-evaluating, a former Republican president offered his own observations about the current White House tenant’s dealings. George W. Bush, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, revealed much with few words and earned himself a superlative for wisdom.

Who’da thunk that ‘43 would be viewed in 2017 as the genius in the crowd?

The president who kept his silence throughout Barack Obama’s two terms in office has suddenly found his voice as Trump enters his second month. Could it be that silence is no longer tenable when so much is at stake — and so much is wrong?

Appearing on the morning show to promote his new book of portraits of wounded veterans, Bush seemed to disagree — in the nicest possible way — with most everything Trump considers his “accomplishments,” including the travel restrictions on predominantly Muslim nations and Trump’s war on the media.

“I support an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law,” Bush said, benignly. Not even Trump could disagree with this statement, though he might add a Clintonian qualifier: It depends on how one defines “the law.”

Bush’s brilliance shone, however, when he sided with the Fourth Estate over the current chief executive. A free press, he said, is “indispensable to democracy.”

“We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,” he said, adding: “Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”

Truer or timelier words are rare.

Bush said that, while in office, he spent years trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow an independent press. His point: “It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.” This heartening observation comes amid Trump’s “fake news” fusillade and remarks that the media are the “enemy of the people.”

Bush, hardly the beneficiary of a generous press, could as easily have felt and responded the same. But he never struck back, except with humor. This tells you as much about the differences between these two Republicans (and the GOP then and now) as any other detail. If evolution takes forever, the devolution of the Republican Party was a blink of the eye.

Sure, Bush divided the nation nearly as much as Trump has, thanks largely to the Iraq War. And conservatives had no truck with Bush on his supplemental drug plan for the elderly or his controversial No Child Left Behind educational program. Trump’s mandate to drain the swamp, clamp down on immigration and radically cut spending is owed as much to Bush as to Obama.

Despite his flaws and misjudgments, Bush nevertheless was well-liked by many journalists for the very reason Trump isn’t. Bush had a heart. Self-deprecation came easily to him. He wore himself lightly.

No one who knows him doubts that Bush suffered for the terrible human losses in Iraq. It was in his eyes and the deepening lines in his face. Hence, perhaps, his portraits of those he had committed to battle. Proceeds from the book will benefit veterans groups, Bush says.

Trump may avoid such wrinkles, though not if he leads us to war. No amount of cleansing removes the blood from a civilian commander’s hands. One wishes Bush could chat with Trump about that and also about Putin, of whom Bush once famously said: “I looked the man in the eye. … I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Bush, alas, was guilty more than once — catastrophically in the case of Iraq — of projecting onto others his own beliefs and hopes. He knows better now. When asked on the “Today” show about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, he stopped short of saying a special prosecutor is needed but did say, “We all need answers.”

That we do. Some might be found in the tax returns Trump refuses to release. Then again, maybe he looked into Putin’s eyes — and saw dollar signs.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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