Dear President Trump,
Just now my fingers seemed to want to type “President Tramp” but I overrode them and fixed the typo. I think though, if my fingers had decided to swap in an “o” for the “u,” I might have gone with it today – “President Tromp” fits our current situation exceedingly well since “tromp” means “to tread or to stamp on” – as in “President Who Stamps On” his people, democracy, decency. Sigh.
Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about President George W. Bush’s oil paintings of US veterans who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, his 98 “Portraits of Courage.” Even though all but two of the portraits depicted men when there should have been 16 women (in 2014 16.5% of active duty and guard military were women; https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Women_Veterans_2015_Final.pdf), I think lots of us breathed sighs of relief when he moved on from embarrassing pet paintings to paintings honoring veterans who served in the wars he started. I’ve been thinking about these paintings of his because they are his most visible, and vulnerable, way of honoring a few of the people he put in harms way.
I’m certainly not a GW fan – we still have our old “Impeach Bush” sign facing out of a basement window –he was a terrible president in so many ways, not the least of which was his decision to go to war with Iraq when there was intelligence indicating they didn’t have a role in 9/11 and didn’t have weapons of mass destruction (the latter of which would not have been, in and of itself and for the record, a just reason to attack them). That stupid, “gotta do something, anything….” move cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern lives. The money we spent on the war and that we’ve spent trying to patch together the survivors could have been used to address so many domestic concerns, from infrastructure to healthcare to education to disaster preparedness. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to estimate the number of civilian deaths that are attributable to funds having been diverted to support those military operations – surely it’s many times more than the 7,000 military personnel who were killed in action.
Essentially, Bush could paint until he’s on death’s door, he could even start painting portraits of injured Iraqi’s, but he can’t begin to atone for what he did. He does, however, appear to be trying. Yes, I know he says publicly that he doesn’t regret waging war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, that history will judge that decision. But you don’t spend years and years painting haunting images of those you put in harm’s way if you aren’t feeling some guilt, if you don’t have some remorse for the role you played in burdening them and in the deaths of their comrades. You just don’t.
It’s obviously not a coincidence that I started thinking about Bush and his paintings of veterans a few days before Memorial Day and a few days before we were set to hit 100,000 covid-19 deaths. I just checked the Worldometer and we ended the day with 99,805 US deaths (1,706,226 US cases, 17,114 of which are critical); tomorrow will surely be the day we push past 100,000 deaths. Flags are at half-mast for the covid dead, but the wheels are already turning to kick sand in the people’s eyes, to gaslight the numbers down and in the process to dishonor everyone who ends up dying, everyone who battles the illness and survives, everyone who loses their livelihood and struggles to keep their children healthy, and everyone who battles to keep their addictions and their despair at bay.
Basically, you make GW look like a statesman.
May we be safe from our presidents.
May we be relentless in our demand for honor and decency from our leaders.
May we hold fast to a vision of health and wellbeing that includes everyone.
May we be peace.