In a rare public speech on Thursday, former President George W. Bush blasted the state of discourse that has marked President Trump’s first nine months in office.
“Bigotry seems emboldened,” Bush said in his opening remarks at the Bush Institute’s Spirit of Liberty event in New York City. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” the former president continued. “At times, it could seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”
Bush did not mention Trump by name. But his comments came just three days after the president falsely suggested that neither he nor former President Barack Obama had called to offer their condolences to the families of fallen soldiers.
And the 43rd U.S. president — who was among those who strongly condemned the violence that erupted during a white supremacist rally in August in Charlottesville, Va. — seemingly had Trump’s “America first” doctrine in mind.
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism,” Bush said, warning that “bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
He continued: “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Though they are both Republicans, Bush and Trump are far apart when it comes to how they speak about racial and religious minorities.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush visited a Islamic center in Washington D.C., to plead for tolerance towards Muslims even as he vowed to seek retribution for the terrorists. Trump once reacted to terrorism abroad by touting a baseless anti-Muslim war-crime tale.
“We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments,” Bush said, “forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking can reemerge.”
The former president then unveiled a “call to action,” outlining five recommendations for restoring “America’s identity.” Among them: confronting Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
“According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other,” Bush said. “This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It’s conducted across a range of social media platforms. Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence, should never be downplayed or tolerated.”
Bush also said the United States must engage with world leaders on the international stage.
“We cannot wish globalization away,” he said.
Finally, Bush said, elected officials must project “cultural and moral leadership” in order to combat “a crisis of confidence.”
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