If you wanted powerful evidence that a Nobel Prize does not exempt you from saying extremely stupid shit, look no further than whatever this was from Paul Krugman today:
I’m not going to go too deeply into refuting this point by point, mostly because it’s so patently false. Like, literally every part of this tweet is not true? (Except that Bush was a terrible president, that part is true.) “Overall, Americans took 9/11 pretty calmly” is a wild thing to say (remember, idk, the Iraq War? The Patriot Act? Freedom Fries? The Dixie Chicks? 24? Mass surveillance? Black sites? The rampant militarization of our society that we are still living with today?). “There wasn’t a mass outbreak of anti-Muslim sentiment” is a wild and willfully ignorant thing to say, since there definitely was. And George W. Bush did not try to “calm prejudice,” he launched multiple wars in the Middle East based on lies and spearheaded an international torture regime! He called it a crusade, you doofus!
You don’t have to be a scholar of the period to know these things. You just had to be…alive and sentient. To his credit, Krugman acknowledged in a later tweet that the Iraq War was bad and that Rudy Giuliani is also bad. But that is a low bar to clear. His amnesia is just a symbol of the larger national amnesia constantly happening these days. It’s the same kind of delusion that has turned Bush—a man with the blood of millions of people on his hands—from a hated war criminal into a symbol of kindness and tolerance. It’s the delusion that has allowed a group of sicko Republicans to gain warm acceptance among supposedly liberal circles because they think Donald Trump doesn’t hate the Russians enough.
This sort of thing is partially rooted in the comforts of whiteness—Krugman has the luxury of not seeing anti-Muslim violence because it doesn’t touch him too deeply. It’s rooted in the comforts of empire—liberals can write off Iraq as not particularly meaningful or relevant to our national psyche because bloodbaths far from our shores need not trouble us too much. It’s rooted in the total lack of elite accountability in this country. And, above all, it is rooted in the endless American desire to rewrite our own history.
This is particularly acute right now because of the chaos and misery Trump has caused. He has sent far too many people scrambling to find comfort in the past—to tell themselves that it couldn’t always have been this bad. Well, yes, for a lot of people, it absolutely could be this bad, and it was this bad.
But this is not ultimately a Trump thing, not really. The American story has always been built on fantasies, and politicians of every stripe have collaborated to perpetuate those fantasies. When Barack Obama announced that he was going to “look forward, not backward,” he was signaling that it was more important to keep the fantasy of America alive than to deal with the realities of what the Bush administration had done. ‘Twas ever thus. One of the consequences of that kind of thinking is that prominent people like Paul Krugman wind up writing fan fiction about the past. Another is that the trauma that millions of people endured gets conveniently forgotten.
There is no need to lie to ourselves or to each other in this way, and if you think it can’t happen with Trump, you had better think again.