It’s no secret that former President George W. Bush has tried to keep a low profile since the end of his presidential term. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Bush refrained from publicly commenting or critiquing his administration.
That’s why it came as a surprise when Bush gave a speech entitled “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World” at the Bush Institute Summit in New York City on Thursday. In his remarks, the former president rebuked the Trump administration–though not by name.
Specifically, Bush appeared to critique the current administration’s failure to clearly and unabashedly denounce white supremacy ideologies that have been front and center at recent events since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s term:
“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication… we’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism–forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”
Bush offered an alternative to the dehumanizing animosity he has witnessed in political discourse, employing Christian undertones:
“At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together… 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.”
In his most scathing condemnation of the recent public displays of racism, Bush remarked:
“…people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
Bush closed his speech alluding to the famous Civil Rights gospel song, saying, “The American spirit… says, ‘We shall overcome.’ And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another.”
Bush’s speech has drawn several responses across the political spectrum. Several representatives from conservative and liberal political persuasions alike have applauded Bush’s critique of the Trump administration, even seeing this as potentially the former president’s finest hour.
But not all have been so easily impressed. Some have commented that Bush inadequately “subtweeted” Donald Trump in his speech instead of naming him directly. Others have had issues seeing the former president as a voice of moral clarity given his own track record of starting the Iraq War under false pretenses. As Ross Barkan writes in his opinion piece for The Guardian:
What is ironic here is that Bush will undoubtedly be elevated to the status of a pious, gray-haired warrior speaking out in defense of the republic he once led, a talisman of decency for DC amnesiacs.
And he caused far more harm to the country and planet than Trump has so far, and maybe ever will. It was under Bush that America invaded Iraq, murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians, and destabilized the Middle East so thoroughly that it may take the entire 21st century to recover.
What seems to be the most significant outcome of Bush’s speech is that, in tandem with recent remarks by Sen. John McCain and former President Barack Obama, there is widespread recognition that bigotry, racism and white supremacy are impinging upon and redefining what were once held onto as American ideals. While voices from all sides of the spectrum may critique Bush for failing to name names in his public rebuke, one must also recognize that even a downpour begins with a drizzle.
Photo by The U.S. National Archives