It’s only March, but 2017 has already seen some strange things happen. Some news has been polarizing, like the controversy surrounding the president of Iceland and, uh, pineapples on pizza. There has also been some news that makes for a positive break from the barrage of political stories, like NASA’s discovery of seven new planets (and a strange twist on the news in the form of a survey finding that 29 per cent of Americans would move to outer space to leave Donald Trump). Then there was last week’s Oscar snafu where the wrong winner for Best Picture was announced. And, all the way back in January, there was George W. Bush, struggling to put on a poncho at Donald Trump’s Inauguration.
Bush has been making appearances recently to promote his new book featuring oil paintings of soldiers, Portraits of Courage. He appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where Ellen poked some fun at the poncho incident. “The poncho was a problem,” Ellen said to laughs from the audience. “Is that your first time putting a poncho on?” she asked. “It looks like it, doesn’t it?” Bush replied. At the end of the now-viral segment, Ellen gifts Bush a new poncho with the label “This end up.”
Some people on the Internet ate it up. Others, however, were incredulous. Bush authorized the 2003 Iraq invasion, which led to a war which killed over a million people—and identifying him as a former president who can’t put on a poncho completely glosses over this. Bush can paint and write and go on talk shows to promote his book, but the bottom line is that many Americans will continue to judge him based on his actions as a politician. He can’t escape his past, no matter how many audiences laugh at a talk show host’s jokes about him. Maybe he shouldn’t escape his past, even in his “celebrity” life. He was president, after all, and deserves to be held accountable for what he did while in office.
The poncho controversy is vaguely reminiscent of the anger that arose after Jimmy Fallon ruffled Trump’s hair in what was deemed a “soft” interview with the then-Republican candidate. Fallon later defended the interview. The same concept I’ve applied to Bush’s interview works here too. Trump can’t escape the things he’s said, done, and caused, no matter how many late night talk show hosts laughingly ruffle his hair. He shouldn’t escape that past, though, because he is president now and should be held accountable.
Political figures seem to be tied to their political careers, forever. Just look at how Hillary Clinton’s past haunted her on the 2016 campaign trail, and maybe even cost her the election. “But her emails,” people would say, justifying their support for Trump as opposition to Clinton.
This same fervency for mistakes made in the past wasn’t applied equally to Trump; he bragged about sexually assaulting women, refused to release his tax returns, and did so many other unacceptable things I’m not even going to write them all out. But that’s the thing. By not entirely listing Trump’s negative actions and mistakes, am I brushing him off in the same way Ellen brushed off Bush’s past, and Jimmy Fallon brushed off Trump’s inappropriate behaviour?
If we discussed everyone in the light of negative things they’ve done, we’d never say anything positive at all, or never get any laughs out of televised interviews. But there are some things that can’t be ignored—war, deaths and sexual assault all fit this bill. We can laugh at Bush’s inability to put on a poncho, but we should also remember the deaths that were a result of the Iraq war. This also raises the question, though, of if the Iraq war should entirely define Bush’s presidency, as he had some positive accomplishments during his time in office too.
Laughing to escape from our problems is certainly a theme that defines the strange year of 2017, but I’m not sure it’s always the right answer. As Dumbledore said, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” It is perhaps easier to ignore the mistakes of celebrities and politicians, to laugh and move on. But it is right to challenge those mistakes and to try to right the wrongs when possible—even when those wrongs involve a disgruntled former president and a poncho.
Can political figures be seen separately from their political careers? Or is it more important to continually judge a politician by their actions from the past? Let me know your thoughts in the comments | Follow me on Twitter | Bloglovin’ | Header image credits Michael Rozman/Warner Bros