Notes on an Important Book: Glenn Greenwald’s “A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency”


A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. By Glenn Greenwald. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

Salon reporter and constitutional law attorney Glenn Greenwald’s thesis is straightforward: George W. Bush approached every issue he faced as one on which the forces of good had to overcome the forces of evil. Everything, and as far as Greenwald is concerned that means literally EVERYTHING, was in black and white with no shades of gray whatsoever. Consequently, the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath defined his presidency were viewed as the result of evil being perpetrated by those who were evil on the good people and the good nation of the United States. The sense of American innocence present in this perspective was palpable. The myth of the innocent nation so much a part of Bush’s character, allowed him to come to believe that whatever he did to respond to this perceived evil was just and righteous.

No doubt this sense was fostered by Bush’s strikingly non-nuanced Christian beliefs, and this too led him to accept as true that he was locked in a desperate struggle with evil. He viewed the world this way, seeing it in virtually all periods of American history but it is especially present in the great struggles of the twentieth century. He accepted that in World Wars I and II America was fighting for the survival of all that was good against forces of evil. But it also was especially prevalent in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and certainly in the aftermath of 9/11 in the global war on terrorism.

In essence A Tragic Legacy is a character study of George W. Bush. It is one that points to what Greenwald believes were fundamental flaws in his personality; but it is more than that since it also exemplifies the mindset of his administration and policies pursued during the first decade of the twenty-first century. This led to a demonization of people and cultures that held ideas different from Bush, and tragic wars in Iraq and, although less so, in Afghanistan.

Greenwald makes a convincing case, but as someone who values academic arguments for me there was a bit too much of journalistic license in the discussion. For one thing I appreciate the scholarly apparatus, and I found the lack of any sort of documentation whatsoever troubling. Greenwald offered basic statements about where large quote came from, but no specifics. For example, on p. 105 he quotes from a Dr. Rafael Medoff’s 2003 article but doesn’t bother to tell you the name of the article or where it appeared, to say nothing of page number, etc. That is common throughout the book. I want more specificity and the ability to follow-up on, even to fact check, what is being said. It’s not that I don’t think Greenwald is incorrectly quoting these sources; I always want to verify everything.

Perhaps that is not a problem for other readers, but it is for me. I take the analysis in this book seriously, and I want the substance to back it up.

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