Following the death of President George Herbert Walker Bush at age 94, the mainstream press and the television punditariat began treating the occasion as the passing of America’s grandpa.  The narcissistic grandchildren who flew in just in time for the funeral and preferred to stay at a hotel regaled us with personal stories of the kindly old man who, as we all know, wasn’t perfect, but looking back we can see that he taught us so much, and here’s the (one) picture of the two of us together, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry.

A similar scene had played out recently with the death of America’s crazy old war-hero uncle, John McCain.

The left hated both of them until it was no longer necessary.

The obituaries and commentary that poured forth from the same media that dogged President Bush while he was in office, asking him whether he was a wimp and urging him to be wimpier in the face of their demands, were transparently slanted to stir resentments among “suburban white women”—that now-coveted demographic—against Donald Trump and the so-called Party of Trump.  Vignettes about Bush’s love for his late wife, his fondness for colorful socks, his friendship with James Baker, his thoughtfulness in showing a young Chelsea Clinton where a White House bathroom was—these were unmistakably cast and broadcast in contrast to the “current occupant,” who is the very image of the Beast.  And every American who has agreed with Trump’s key policy objectives and supported him in the face of the ludicrously wasteful “Russia investigation” had to admit, if only in the quiet place of his own mind, that Trump has made the contrast all too easy, with his vulgar behavior and puerile tweets.

No one will accuse President Bush of vulgar behavior, a fact that does indeed point to a strength of character.  Bush possessed the magnanimity of a blue-blooded Yalie taught by his mother to see himself as a decent person blessed with privilege and duty-bound to act accordingly.  He demonstrated this magnanimity when confronted with personal slights.  George Bush seemed to judge himself by the inherited standards of a vanishing American bourgeoisie—a bourgeoisie whose disappearance can be blamed immediately on the “Greatest Generation,” of which he was a part.  Thus, despite his well-chronicled vast experience in government and politics, he appeared baffled by the dominant left’s refusal to recognize his virtue.  In a time when cable television was installed in most American households and CNN was broadcast 24/7, he lacked media savvy.  Perhaps this was because he was shy and a poor public speaker; or perhaps he simply thought it beneath him to have to try.

The generation reared by Bush’s generation (which includes Bush 43) simply did not prize groundless manners and magnanimity.  It manifested its lack of upbringing in the Sixties, when it realized the only true virtue is unpretentious, self-referential, self-assured, speak-directly-to-the-camera, vacuous, and ultimately exhibitionist “authenticity.”  (Add “Machiavellian,” in the case of Bill Clinton.)  And also circular: A dictionary will tell you that authenticity is the quality of being authentic, which has come to mean the appearance of caring.  Television is the medium of appearances and authenticity.  Therefore, he who looks better on television wins.  George Bush simply could not beat Bill Clinton in close-up: “I feel your pain.”

In that generation-shifting campaign of 1992, Bush’s violation of “read my lips” may have served to frustrate and dishearten Republican true believers who see tax cuts as the perennial campaign issue, but in broader context, it provided an opportunity for Democrats to drive home Bush’s lack of authenticity.  Such was the mood.  “Daddy had to lie,” sang Don Henley in 1989’s “End of the Innocence.”

Bush’s loss puzzled many Republicans, including himself, given his great victory in the Gulf War and the astronomically high approval ratings he registered immediately following it.  American voters, however, did not see the U.S.-led coalition victory the way he saw it: as the inauguration of the “New World Order.”  To those who were unemployed and enduring a recession, the glory of a war to liberate a statelet smaller than New Jersey, located on the other side of the world and ruled by the oil-rich Al-Sabah family, had faded.  In a sense, victory in Desert Storm was the conclusion of a miniseries broadcast on CNN.  Still, the outsized power of the Saudis had been felt by those who were paying attention; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  And before Clinton, having successfully changed the subject from geopolitics to the American economy, took us across his bridge to the 21st century, the New World Order was in place.  Simply put: No aggression anywhere on earth would be tolerated.

Disastrously, George Bush had used the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hus sein in 1990 as the pretext for establishing it.  “What is at stake is more than one small country,” declared Bush in his 1991 State of the Union Address.  “It is a big idea.  A New World Order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind—peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law.”

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Charles Krauthammer, apologist for the New World Order, was already banging the alarm bells over worldwide WMDs.  “The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery will constitute the greatest single threat to world security for the rest of our lives,” he said ominously in a speech published under the title “The Unipolar Moment.”  “That is what makes a new international order not an imperial dream or a Wilsonian fantasy but a matter of the sheerest prudence.”  Of course it was both of the first two things.  The meaning of “is” was already on shaky footing.

Prudence grounded in the wisdom of the past would have allowed Bush to foresee the fact that running the world as a unipolar power is an unsustainable and impossible task for any country.  Squarely, it would place the country on the path to internal ruin and make it the object of worldwide resentment and hatred, conjuring a thousand unpredictable reactions.  But the blue-blooded Bush was captivated by liberal American dreams (lately dressed up in conservative rhetoric) and shared with Krauthammer and his neocon colleagues a disdain for “1930s-style conservative isolationism.”  Their mania was to believe that all conflicts between nations are problems and, therefore, have a solution.

Thus, at the end of an era of global bipolarism, George H.W. Bush squandered a golden opportunity to bring America home and foster a multipolar world order.  Is it so very impossible to imagine?  Was it not at least desirable—that America could settle down as a superrich, extremely well-armed continent-sized country flanked by oceans, fighting only when our country or our regional, hemispheric friends are threatened, beating some of our swords into plowshares and tightening our own borders?  That vision was beyond Bush, because he saw the United States as himself writ large: a kinder, gentler nation, faithfully serving as patrician of the world and deserving of the honor.

Having amassed the greatest war machinery in the history of planet earth in order to deter and defeat a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, America was in desperate need of a visionary leader who would steer the country away from the quagmires of history, the perennial religious and ethnic conflicts between ancient enemies on far-flung battlefields; a leader unafraid of the epithets hurled by liberal internationalists, bellicose neoconservatives, and push-button warhawks (“antisemite,” “isolationist”); a president capable of seeing and saying that threats to American security are found not in the border wars of the Middle East but in the crumbling borders of our own country and in the machinations of the globalist technocrats and fomenters of hysteria and chaos present among us.  In short, a president devoted not to temperance and prudence—or to bravery and justice—in isolation, but to all four at the same time, and not merely in appearance.