During President Barack Obama's terms, Dallas resident and former President George W. Bush, for the most part, kept his mouth shut about matters of policy, following in a long line of ex-presidents who declined to criticize their successors despite obvious political differences. But on Thursday, Bush made his clearest stretch of his sense of decorum, taking on President Donald Trump explicitly but without mentioning the president's name.
Here are five highlights from the Dallas-based president's speech at the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World" event in New York City.
1. After pointing to growing economic instability, ethno-nationalism and fear of immigrants in Europe, Bush called out the United States.
"America is not immune from these trends. In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."2. Bush lamented the way bullying and cruelty have become acceptable forms of political rhetoric in contemporary American politics.
“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.”Later, Bush returned to a theme from the 2016 speech he gave at the memorial service honoring the police officers killed during the July 7, 2016, ambush in downtown Dallas, urging Americans to show empathy for those who are different from them.
"We have 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."
3. Bush went out of his way to highlight his view of immigration as positive for the United States. Blocking refugees from the United States, Bush said, threatens the nation's security.
"We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism — forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.4. Bush signaled we should take Russian interference in American elections seriously.
"We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments — 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 tend to emerge."
"America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy. It’s conducted across a range of social media platforms.5. White supremacy, in whatever form it takes, shouldn't be tolerated, Bush felt compelled to say.
"Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions — including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence — should not be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion."
"This means that 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."