He’s walked over white-hot coals with self-help guru Tony Robbins, logged time at a monk-ish retreat in which he studied his “negative patterns” and personal weaknesses, traveled to Japan, and joined a boxing gym that’s “75 percent women,” which he thinks is “interesting.”
It’s been over seven months, and Billy Bush—contrite, humbled, a husband and father—is ready for his comeback. The only problem: In all that time and despite all that cardio, he doesn’t seem to have developed much moral fortitude at all. Over the weekend, The Hollywood Reporter published the first interview with the former Today anchor and one-time Access Hollywood co-host since reporters at the Washington Post released the now-famed Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump can be heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. The episode ended Bush’s career. (Although, he did walk out with a multimillion-dollar severance package—apparently what we’ve decided we owe men who not only laugh off sexual assault, but even those who allegedly commit it.) Meanwhile, it catapulted Trump to the White House.
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“I will admit that the irony is glaring,” Bush tells The Hollywood Reporter, of their respective trajectories. Within two weeks of the tape’s release, Bush was suspended and then fired from his still-recent gig on The Today Show. Trump went on to win the election, dismissing the Access Hollywood conversation as mere “locker room talk.”
Over the past seven months, Bush has come to the conclusion that he disputes this characterization: “I’m in a lot of locker rooms, I am an athlete, and no, that is not the type of conversation that goes on or that I’ve participated in.” But that’s evidently as negative as Bush is willing to be. Over and over, Bush declines to offer a full-throated critique of the president, who not only tanked his career, but admitted to a sexual crime on camera. “I’m out of the could-shoulda-woulda game,” Bush claims when the interviewer asks whether the scandal would have been easier had Trump lost the election. “I wish I had changed the topic on the bus,” he continues, determinedly bringing the spotlight back on his own sins. It’s a line he repeats more than once during the interview.
Bush claims to have watched the video only three times, each leaving him “totally and completely gutted.” When he looks back on “what was said on that bus,” he doubles down: he wishes he had “changed the topic.” Maybe to “TV and competition” or to The Apprentice‘s then sky-high ratings or to golf. That is, he wishes he’d retreated to safer ground; at no point does he seem to wish he’d had the decency to say: “You can’t talk about women that way.” And more to the point, given that the woman on whom Trump’s obscene comments were focused is reportedly Nancy O’Dell, Bush’s former co-host: “You can’t talk about my co-worker that way.”
The piece gives Bush endless opportunities to express not only genuine contrition, but to serve as an example. There will always be conversations to which women aren’t privy and circumstances in which some men behave not just poorly, but criminally. When “good” men, maybe weak or insecure men, but basically “good men” bear witness to them, do they just vow to be good or do they intervene? Do they call it out? Bush doesn’t venture there, preferring instead to focus on all he’s discovered about himself. And so the interview instead paints a universal picture of feeble men who’ve been caught in moments that they know are supposed to make them feel shame—on the one hand, proclaimed sorrow and newfound humbleness; on the other, a dangerous cowardliness.
“I’ve come out of this with a deeper understanding of how women can connect to the feeling of having to fight extra hard for an even playing field,” Bush says. “The ground isn’t even. Maybe it’s improving, but still it isn’t even.” Like all proper remorseful men, Bush touts his personal closeness to women in his defense. “I am in the women-raising business, exclusively,” he says. “I have three daughters—Mary, Lillie, Josie—and I care very much about the world and the people they encounter.” It’s a nice sentiment, though utterly lacking in teeth.
“I completely have owned and accepted my part in all of this,” Bush says at one point. Which is fine, but not enough. Men like Bush and Jimmy Fallon, who submitted to an equivalent feature in the New York Times last week for his delight in ruffling Trump’s hair during the height of the election, need to do more than own and accept justtheir part “in all of this.”
It’s true; if every man could take responsibility for his actions, we’d live in a very different world. But Bush knows well that scores of men—men like Donald Trump—do not and have not and won’t. Which is why it’s not enough just to notbe them or to put distance between these men and themselves. Redemption doesn’t happen in an exercise in one’s own “negative patterns.” It happens when it’s possible to see the negative patterns out there in the world and feel to some degree responsible for those, too. A suggestion, then, to these men and to those who will inevitably be “awakened” in a similar fashion over the next few millennia: Don’t wish you’d talked about sports or TV. Don’t wish you’d diverted the megalomaniac’s attention. Wish you’d exhibited real remorse; ask why powerful men still feel entitled to women’s bodies. Then let’s about evening the playing field.