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George W. Bush: “Bigotry is emboldened” in today's America

Even without naming names, Bush’s latest speech slams President Trump.

Tim Sloan / Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush gave a speech Thursday that served as a lengthy critique of President Donald Trump, ending with a call for “American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation.”

Bush never mentioned Trump by name, but his speech, published in full by Politico, didn’t make it too hard to connect the dots — from condemning the foundation of Trump’s immigration agenda to calling the Russian attempt to interfere in American elections a serious threat to democracy.

Here are four moments from the speech that were particularly pointed:

1) Calling out “bigotry” and “conspiracy theories”

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.

Trump got his start in politics by promoting the false conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya. He’s continued to spread baseless stories and rumors, including that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election.

2) Standing up for “international trade” and against “nativism”

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.

Trump’s administration has supported a reduction of legal immigration and has scorned international trade deals in favor of putting America first.

3) Criticizing a discourse of “casual cruelty”

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.

This can be read as a critique of the political culture at large rather than just Trump, but the president has judged all Mexican and Central American immigrants based on the violent gang MS-13, mocked people with disabilities, and, this week, told the widow of a fallen American soldier that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

4) Calling for action against Russian interference in the election

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. Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions — including cyber-attacks, 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.

The reference to “downplaying” is a jab at Trump, who has frequently (although not consistently) denied that Russia interfered in the 2017 election at all, certainly not to help him, and, over the summer, announced a plan to cooperate with Russia to stop election hacking.