Please Clap

On the Ignominious Collapse of the House of Bush

It’s hard to admit for someone with a lifelong (though unwilling) fixation on politics, but the 2016 presidential race has lost its luster for me. No one can say anything that surprises me anymore, and causes seem wholly unrelated to effects. Chaos reigns as a many-headed hydra vomits up sound bytes and tears pundits in half. The only smart move, as I’ve been saying for weeks now, is to get the hell out of the race.

In the latest development in the American right wing’s inexorable quest to tear itself to a million wriggling shreds (each fully sentient and capable of launching Hellfire missiles into Middle Eastern children), Jeb Bush has thrown in the towel, slinking back to Florida substantially humbler and several million dollars poorer. If you asked me if I have Opinions about Jeb Bush, I guess I’d say I do, but in the same way I have Opinions about pizza—I don’t spend much time contemplating the subject, but some things are just objectively true (for example, that the East Coast is the only part of the US where you can get a decent slice). Here are some things that are objectively true about Jeb Bush.

  • He is, despite his “moderate” stance and unassuming demeanor, absolutely a bad man. He is a scion of the Bush family’s political dynasty and his beliefs follow that line to the letter. Essentially, the Bush family could produce no better than Jeb—he is genuinely the most reasonable, rational figure to emerge from that shambling mass of fraternity neocons and besuited criminals—but his monstrous family is no excuse for his sickeningly regressive views on abortion, the environment, LGBT rights, the PATRIOT Act, immigration….I could go on. But I won’t. But I could. He’s staked his reputation on his genteel, centrist presentation, and in many ways it worked, until he was forced to confront the actual Republican base. And the Republican base wants no truck with nice-talking fancy boys from boarding schools. The Republican base is hungry for the blood of the enemy.
  • All this aside—and even despite our overwhelming disgust at seeing yet another Bush on the national stage—his campaign elicited a strange sense of pity among leftists. Jeb was promised the world, and what he got was Trump tossing fourth-grade insults at him as his poll numbers ticked mercilessly toward zero. He came equipped with a campaign budget larger than the yearly revenues of the entire country of Sierra Leone, and an expectation (mirrored, perhaps, by that of his originally-projected rival, Hillary Clinton) that it was “his turn.” As his hopes careened groundward, Bush found his awkwardness and his general abject sadness on full display in the media, which gained him a lot of unlikely support. Not material support, as none of us would ever even consider voting for him, but…emotional support. There was the Hoodie/Straitjacket Incident. There were the inexplicable turtles. There was the cryptic, slightly terrifying tweet showcasing his monogrammed handgun. There was the website hijacking. And finally, there was the defeated, all-too-self-aware “Please clap.” He became a sort of unwilling Internet icon, a Sadboy all grown up, a manifestation of his audience’s depression or low self-worth or simple, human neediness. We are Jeb, and he is us—horribly, almost offensively, but undeniably so.
  • He is a loser. I’m not trying to be mean about this—that feels almost unsporting. I’m merely being literal. The tide turned against Jeb early, and it never let up, despite a few moments where it seemed like his nerdy respectability might make him look almost reasonable next to the bellowing miasma of Trump and the dripping, nasally petulance of Cruz. But America’s focus has shifted. Enough dynasties, howl the beleaguered voters into their television screens and car radios, enough Bushes and Kennedys—and perhaps enough Clintons, too. This isn’t to say that money and influence can’t still buy an election, of course—this is America, after all—but Jeb Bush is, if nothing else, a walking demonstration that these days, one has to do a bit more than show up.

Amazingly, there’s no real comfort in knowing a Bush won’t be in the White House next year. In 2008, I’d never have believed I’d write that sentence, but here we are. Jeb will go home, and his mother will be disappointed in him, as she has always been, and he will endorse Rubio or maybe Kasich. Then either Trump or Cruz or the next-of-kin Establishment Candidate will take the nomination, and the repulsive cycle of American politics will continue anew, spurred on by the blood and tears (mostly tears) of another failed center-right jester. I don’t know if it matters, anymore. I’m tired and depressed and recently out of a job. In that way I am Jeb, too, I guess.

And so we press on, Jebless in the face of an uncaring world. Rest easy, Mr. Bush—there will be an Arizona Iced Tea waiting for you on the other side.

Art by Jun Joestar. 

Johnny Islamabad

Johnny Islamabad

Johnny Islamabad is the main editor and cofounder of Empire of Loathing. In his non-Internet life, he is a starving literature professor and alcohol enthusiast. He most often writes about the bizarre farce that is American electoral politics, which is a refreshing break from the bizarre farce that is his daily life.

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