Ellen DeGeneres ruffled feathers (and then some) on Monday after she defended her friendship with former U.S. President George W. Bush on her daytime talk show. “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” she told the audience (and over 28 million viewers to date on Instagram and Twitter combined). “When I say ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone,” she said.
DeGeneres’s take earned the praise of many, including fellow celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Kendall Jenner, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Orlando Bloom, and Lenny Kravitz.
I can’t get over this. Celebs are insane. pic.twitter.com/wKe2d00LzW— Bustopher Walken (@Douchetoevsky) October 8, 2019
However, many also took issue with DeGeneres and co.'s willingness to overlook Bush’s history, including his decision to march the country into war in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 250,000 civilians, according to a study by Brown University. He has also been accused of war crimes.
This is a bad take and you should re-examine it. Sometimes you have to be kind by protecting other people and holding the powerful, especially powerful criminals, to account.— 👻 Online Voting 👻 / Matt W (@MJWhitehead) October 9, 2019
GWB is a war criminal. Treating him normally normalizes war crimes.
You know what's "interesting" about this whole rehabilitation Bush/Ellen BS is that the same will be done with the racist in charge.— Lilliam Rivera (@lilliamr) October 9, 2019
"You know he's not so bad. I mean yeah, sure kids in cages and supremacy and all that but he's pretty funny..."
Ellen killed people with kindness, Bush killed people with torture and bombs. Friends ‘til the end. pic.twitter.com/0ItaSGYYma— Tim Hendricks (@Saltwatertattoo) October 9, 2019
(With love to Reese and Ellen—whom I don’t know) People who lost loved ones in New Orleans and elsewhere during Katrina because of a failed response by FEMA might find this kind of answer a little pat https://t.co/KFmajSvBmk— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) October 9, 2019
Some went as far as to categorize the social media division as more of a class conflict than a partisan issue.
Privilege is Ellen DeGeneres explaining her friendship with George Bush by saying "just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not gonna be friends with them," as if what they disagree about is who was best dressed at the Emmys or what the best mayo is— noah michelson (@noahmichelson) October 8, 2019
If George Bush killed a million white women, I don't think Ellen would be talking about her friend George Bush. But since it's a million dead Iraqis and Afghans, no big deal.— Remi Kanazi (@Remroum) October 8, 2019
this whole thing is really not more complicated than class solidarity https://t.co/Oc1KvZYsGr— Emma Roller (@emmaroller) October 9, 2019
The fact that Ellen made friends with George W. Bush is proof that class is one of the most important divides in American life.— Arlen Parsa (@arlenparsa) October 8, 2019
She goes on TV and makes jokes about yukking it up with rich friends.
She'll never meet the millions of poor people whose lives he ruined. pic.twitter.com/aSNDQj6nLT
Jameela Jamil was one of the few celebrities to publicly take the opposition, tweeting that she’s “learning today about the full extent of Bush’s heinous presidency” and can “now understand the rage.”
Ooooof learning today about the full extent of Bush’s heinous presidency... we weren’t taught much about him at school, we just heard he was stupid...(we were dealing with our own epic nightmare of a prime minister back then). What a monstrous leader. I now understand the rage..— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) October 9, 2019
This response elicited a backlash of its own, with people tweeting that she should have known earlier, as she was in her twenties when he left office.
jameela jamil claiming to be an activist but having to google the Iraq war despite having been in her 20s when it was happening is why I know anything I put my mind to will happen. it's actually inspirational. from today im an engineer.— 🦎 (@zamarudd) October 9, 2019
Jamil combated detractors by pointing out that 1) she didn’t grow up in America, and 2) she’s taking the time to learn now.
Very interesting to see some pompous responses from people because someone from the other side of the world didn’t learn about a president in your country when they were a teenager. Are you experts on all world leaders from back then? Ridiculing learning and growth is weird. 🤘🏽— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) October 9, 2019
I love learning and growth and massively applaud anyone who says they don’t/didn’t know the answer and seeks it out. I personally think that’s cool and hope that we all feel safe to do that, so we can all evolve together. #progressnotperfection ❤️❤️❤️❤️— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) October 9, 2019
Mark Ruffalo, too, criticized DeGeneres’s plea for kindness.
Sorry, until George W. Bush is brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War, (including American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars—emotional & otherwise—inflicted on our military that served his folly), we can’t even begin to talk about kindness. https://t.co/dpMwfck6su— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) October 9, 2019
This isn’t the first time that DeGeneres has been demonized or called "out of touch" for letting a public figure off the hook for their past indiscretions. She sparked outrage in January when she encouraged Kevin Hart to host the Oscars despite his reluctance to apologize for homophobic jokes he’d made years prior, and then stood with Jussie Smollett after reports that he was the victim of a hate crime circulated but were then questioned.
Perhaps kindness and a willingness to hold people accountable don’t need to be mutually exclusive?