Former President George W. Bush gave a rare speech yesterday at the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In the World” event in New York. Immediately after the speech many in the media are saying Bush was just bashing Trump. Just look at some of the headlines.
Politico: “George W. Bush speech on Trumpism.”
CNN: “George W. Bush just laid a major smackdown on Trumpism.”
Washington Post: “George W. Bush comes out of retirement to deliver a veiled rebuke of Trump.”
Are these media outlets right? Was this speech just a diatribe about Trump’s rhetoric, policy, and agenda? Yes and No.
There were certainly parts of Bush’s speech that could be associated with President Trump. Bush talked about isolationism, nationalism, protectionism, immigration, and other topics that no doubt go against Trump’s positions on those issues.
“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.
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.
In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values….”
“…We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions.
Former Bush staffers Karl Rove and Dana Perino claimed on Fox News that the speech had nothing to do with the current President. This is very hard for anyone to swallow. That being said, there were other parts of the speech that were directed at another popular political figure.
“There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this “democratic deconsolidation.” Really, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers, and forgetfulness….”
“…In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.
This is part of the reason we meet here today. How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets? That’s the question I posed to scholars at the Bush Institute….”
“…And that should be our goal: to prepare American workers for new opportunities, to care in practical, empowering ways for those who may feel left behind. The first step should be to enact policies that encourage robust economic growth by unlocking the potential of the private sector, and for unleashing the creativity and compassion of this country.”
Bush talked about how many young people feel disenfranchised, he talked about how the young don’t really fully understand the disaster of socialist central planning, and he extolls the values of free markets and free enterprise. This cannot be directed towards Trump. The President does not get a lot of support from millennials. This was a criticism of leaders like Bernie Sanders. Bush was right. Young people do feel disenfranchised by the current economic and governmental systems and many of them are running to big government socialists like Bernie Sanders.
In reality most of Bush’s speech wasn’t focused on any one individual. The main theme of the speech was the state of American and world politics.
“These matters would be difficult under any circumstances. They are further complicated by a trend in western countries away from global engagement and democratic confidence. Parts of Europe have developed an identity crisis. We have seen insolvency, economic stagnation, youth unemployment, anger about immigration, resurgent ethno-nationalism, and deep questions about the meaning and durability of the European Union.
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…”
“…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.”
Does anyone really disagree with these sentiments? The state of our public discourse is in trouble just like Bush described. These problems go way beyond Trump. Yes at times Trump contributes to the mess, but Trump is not the cause, he is an effect of our current discourse. Many who complain about Trump’s approach, rhetoric, and temperament are JUST AS GUILTY as Trump. It is on BOTH SIDES.
I understand a lot of the criticism of Bush’s speech. I also wonder where he has been for the last eight years. Why is he coming out now? That being said he also had a lot of words of wisdom that we as a country should take to heart.