Where was this guy while Dick Cheney was running the country?
Granted, George W. Bush has been looking a lot better during the disaster that is Donald Trump…but I’m still dumbfounded (and awed) by his speech last week at the Bush Institute’s Spirit of Liberty event in New York.
A few quotations:
“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
“The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can 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.”
“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, [and] forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”
In a further reproach to Trump–whose name he never uttered and who has dismissed the evidence–Bush also underscored the conclusion of all the American intelligence agencies about Russian interference in last year’s elections, calling it real and labelling it “subversion.”
Credit where credit is due: during his presidency, Bush never came across as a bigot, although he often failed to push back against his party’s use of bigotry and especially homophobia to win elections.
It is obviously easier for politicians who are not facing another election to call out Trumpism, as we’ve seen with John McCain and Bob Corker. But it is also easier to refrain from publicly defying a sitting President of one’s own party, easier to avoid setting an example that cannot help but shame the current leadership of that party. Easier to keep your head down and enjoy the accolades that come from being an “elder statesman.”
Bush’s broadside is so important because it is his party (or more accurately, what his party has become). Trump ran as a Republican. The House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Admonitions from Democrats–even previous Presidents–will be dismissed by the party’s base as partisan carping.
As welcome as this speech was, the fact that Bush delivered it is an ominous sign of how worried responsible people are. Those who understand government, who recognize the challenges facing the country and the incredible damage being done to America’s democracy at home and our stature abroad, are speaking up, and we need to recognize how unprecedented that is.
Differences of opinion on policies would never prompt this behavior. Only a deep foreboding–a sense of existential crisis–can explain this departure from Presidential behavioral norms.
When George W. Bush feels it necessary to warn the country against Trump and Trumpism, we’re in trouble. Bigly.