EDITORIAL: George W. Bush offers needed Republican rebuke of Donald Trump's presidency

York Dispatch
  • Thursday, George W. Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era America.
  • The speech by the former president was largely viewed as a rebuke of the Trump presidency.
  • Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon blasted Bush for his remarks.

Imagine that — a president actually acting presidential.

We haven’t seen that much from the man currently living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who specializes in early-morning Twitter rants, vicious personal put-downs and claims of greatness that have no basis in fact.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Donald Trump’s predecessors in the White House, however, showed last week just how a president should act.

Thursday, Oct. 19, during separate, uncoordinated events, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama voiced deep concerns about the divisive political climate that plagues our nation. It’s a contentious atmosphere that has been fomented and exploited by Trump at every turn for his own political advantage.

Neither Bush, nor Obama, mentioned Trump by name in their remarks. They didn’t have to. Anyone who saw or read their speeches knew exactly who they were talking about.

They also didn’t resort to name-calling, outright lies disguised as empty promises or code words designed to stir up racial animosities.

Instead, they simply told the truth as they see it, respectfully, forcefully and eloquently.

Obama urged us all to reject the politics of “division” and “fear,” while Bush criticized “bullying and prejudice” in public life.

That Obama would take Trump to task was no surprise. He has often been critical of Trump in the past, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he called Trump unfit for office. Obama and Trump represent rival political parties and are worlds apart in their governing philosophies.

Bush's stunning critique: Bush’s statements, however, bordered on stunning.

Bush condemns Trump-era America: ‘Bigotry seems emboldened’

He and Trump, at least nominally, are both Republicans. It’s exceptionally rare for a former president to castigate a sitting president from his own party

Bush, however, to his eternal credit, took the bold step to do just that. It was a determined rebuke of the Trump presidency.

“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Bush said. “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’ve seen the return of isolation sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.”

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” he continued. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

“We need to recall and recover our own identity,” he continued. “To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

Bannon leads critics: Those comments are some of the most articulate and impassioned that Bush has ever made. It took more than a little courage to make them, because Bush had to know that a tsunami of criticism was coming his way from Trump’s supporters.

The denunciations of Bush started almost immediately, and were led, not surprisingly, by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and current executive chairman of Breitbart News.

In a searing broadside Friday night, Bannon said Bush “embarrassed himself” and that he “didn’t understand anything he was talking about.”

Again, those comments were hardly astonishing. Bannon has declared war on the Republican Party establishment that Bush represents and he’s using his Breitbart brand to wage that war.

There’s little doubt that there are two bitter factions battling for the soul of the Republican Party. That conflict was on full display last week.

Joining the fight: Bush decided he could no longer sit idly on the sidelines with his party’s future hanging in the balance. He joined the political fight and spoke with fortitude and fearlessness.

During his eight years in office, Bush reigned over a largely flawed and ineffective presidency.

During a few minutes on Thursday, however, Bush took a few giant strides to redeem his reputation. He delivered a moving and spirited message about the need for simple human decency and responsibility in our political discourse.

It was something this nation desperately needed to hear, and Bush was the right man to deliver it.