After Bush Sr.'s death, Twitter grapples with the ex-president's divisive legacy

The nation, and the internet, are remembering President George H.W. Bush following his death just after midnight on Dec. 1. Some obituaries and remembrances are highlighting what writers describe as his "civility" — a hot button word that pundits and critics have variably longed for in both the actions of political protesters, and our word-diarrhea prone President.

Bush, Sr. was reportedly affable and diplomatic; he certainly did not use dehumanizing language in 280 characters to disparage his enemies while in office. He was also responsible for presiding over the end of the Cold War, strengthening environmental protections, and signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

SEE ALSO: The underrated presidency of George H.W. Bush

But many on Twitter pointed out his apparent superiority to President Trump shouldn't elide a clear-eyed look at his life in public office. And that his legacy is much more complicated, and even ugly, than some of the obituaries suggest. 

Trump may make us long for a qualified and diplomatic president. But as many have pointed out, that doesn't mean we should gloss over the actual mark these conservatives of yore left on our country, and on people's lives.

Here are some of the other parts of Bush's legacy that Twitter says we can't forget.

1. The AIDS Crisis

One of the harshest indictments of Bush's legacy came about thanks to the darkly ironic timing of his death. Bush, Sr. passed on World AIDS Day, the day memorializing the AIDS crisis and its victims, raising awareness, and showing support for those living with HIV. 

As President and, before that, Vice President under President Ronald Reagan, Bush led the country while AIDS took the lives of over 100,000 Americans in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, those fighting for action on AIDS criticized the two administrations' slowness to address the crisis, and Bush's conflating of the disease with irresponsible "behavior." 

Organizations still fighting to de-stigmatize the disease, activists, historians, and others, did not let the timing of Bush's death go unnoticed. 

2. Pardons for Iran-Contra

During President Reagan and Vice President Bush's second term, news broke that the government was secretly selling arms to Iran, which was under an arms embargo, and using the proceeds to support the anti-socialist Contras in Nicaragua. The scandal became known as The Iran-Contra Affair, and it laid bare the U.S.'s clandestine efforts to interfere in South American politics, often with bloody consequences.

But Bush was just the Veep — what did this have to do with him? The government ended up indicting 14 officials and convicting 11 for their role in Iran-Contra. But in the final days of his administration, Bush pardoned six of the indicted.

3. The War on Drugs

As president, Bush continued Reagan's "war on drugs" approach to combating drug use in America. This resulted in racist mandatory minimum laws which led to the disproportionate incarceration of minorities with harsh sentencing for minor drug offenses. 

Historian Joshua Clark Davis shared a Twitter thread about the secret history behind an anti-drug Bush press conference that has gone viral. Essentially, Davis says that DEA agents set up a drug bust in front of the White House so that Bush could make a point about the pervasiveness of the drug problem in a televised address. Because of mandatory minimum laws, the high schooler who sold drugs to agents ended up serving a seven-year sentence.

4. Clarence Thomas and #MeToo

President Bush appointed Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and stood by him in the wake of Anita HIll's accusations of sexual harassment and the subsequent congressional hearing.

Those memorializing Bush connected this part of his legacy to the recent Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford hearings. And, to the allegations of sexual harassment of Bush himself.

5. Racism

Alongside Bush's amped up War on Drugs, some are remembering the 41st president for promoting racism to help him get elected, and his failure to legislate civil rights. That's what references to "the Willie Horton ad" are talking about.

Bush used an ad that demonized a black criminal as a way to show that his opponent was weak on crime. He also vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 which would have strengthened anti-discrimination laws.

Bush's one-term presidency clearly has reverberations today. While it's tempting to analyze history through the lens of Trump, it's important to remember the figures who came before him without the excuse that funhouse mirror retrospection provides.

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