We’re less than 12 hours from what is bound to be one of the most watched, and bloodiest, political showdowns of an already ultra-polarized US election season. So now would be a good time to remember what it looks like to be a civil human being. Let’s start with President Obama, who over the weekend found himself being tapped on the shoulder by former President George W. Bush at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Not for an exchange of words, but to enlist Obama’s help in snapping a photo of Bush with attendees using a phone’s rear-facing camera — for better quality, of course, with none of that single-digit megapixel nonsense you get with selfies.
From the same event: George Bush wants to take a selfie, needs help, taps Obama on the back with his phone https://t.co/7HfNqeqCvu
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) September 26, 2016
The moment is a rare gem. While the relationship between Obama and Bush has always remained cordial these last eight years — Bush has rarely criticized his successor’s administration — it’s still a good reminder of what mutual respect in politics looks like. Sure, Obama campaigned largely on the back of Bush’s failures, and spent most of his presidency trying to drag the country back out of its financial meltdown and military quagmire. Yet in the era of Donald Trump and the ever-lowering bar of political standards, it’s nice to know that simply having shared a job with someone is enough to treat that person as a friend.
This notion culminated more evidently in a now-viral photograph of Michelle Obama and Bush captured at the same event on Saturday. Bush is wearing a gleeful smile, his hands clasped and his head tilted slightly to the left. Meanwhile, Michelle has one arm draped over his shoulder, her left hand holding onto Bush’s in a warm embrace. The two have been photographed in moments of genuine adoration in the past, but the photo touched a nerve on the eve of tonight’s debate. Whatever your interpretation — some harsher critics on the left aren’t eager to overlook Bush’s past — it’s unlikely you’ll see kindness like this in the aftermath of this year’s campaign.