President George W. Bush diligently avoided commenting on national affairs while Barack Obama was in office, but unloaded on Donald Trump’s presidency Thursday in a speech at the George W. Bush Institute in New York.
Or did he?
Bush did give a speech in New York, in which he condemned “nationalism distorted into nativism,” and “discourse degraded by casual cruelty” and asserted “our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” and “bigotry seems emboldened.”
He also did say “our nation depends on passing along civic ideals … and the only way to pass along civic values is to live up to them” – and that politics now seems “more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
But he never mentioned Trump by name, nor did he directly suggest Trump was responsible for any of the above. He attributes the damage done to the “governing class” and calls on U.S. institutions in general to “step up” and for all of us to “recall and recover our own identity.”
He talked about how “discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts” over the years, not just during the Trump administration. His allusion to Russia – that “foreign aggressions including cyber-attacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated”—is as anodyne as it gets.
And his most dire warning was that the intensity of support for democracy 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.” Certainly Trump is not to blame for that.
His finale, that “our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of o9bvious and pressing needs” and that the “American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy” could have been ripped from any 2016 presidential candidate.
It was so general conservative columnist Wayne Dupree said he wasn’t “sure he’s calling out President Trump” and that if he is it’s “odd he kept his mouth shut when Obama was siding with thugs who attacked the elderly with the knockout game, ANTIFA who attacked conservative free speech and Black Lives Matter, who went after white cops.”
The mainstream media had no such hesitation.
“Bush didn’t use Trump’s name, but his target became clearer as the speech progressed,” wrote Aaron Blake of the Washington Post. “Any one of these quotes in isolation could be dismissed as highflying rhetoric aimed at the general coarsening of our political culture – or the rise of forms of nationalism and extremism that clearly exist outside the Oval Office.”
And given that John McCain also gave a speech that didn’t mention Trump but did talk about “spurious nationalism” and the fact McCain also gave a speech in February that didn’t name Trump but alluded to factors for which Blake blames Trump, this must have been an attack on Trump.
Chris Cillizza at CNN had even less doubt this was an attack on Trump, calling the speech a “point-by-point takedown of Trumpism,” and a “calling out [of] the uglier parts of Trumpism just days after John McCain … delivered a similar rebuke.”
The speeches by Bush and McCain, “taken together, amount to a verbal lapel-shaking by Bush and McCain of the Republican Party they have led over the past two decades. ‘Wake up!’ Bush and McCain are saying to their party. ‘What Trump represents is neither Republican nor conservative. It is Trump. Which is fine for Trump but far less fine for the medium-to-long-term health of the Grand Old Party.”
Bush is admittedly no fan of Trump. His brother, ‘Low Energy Jeb’ Bush, was among the first victims of Trump’s campaigning skills in the Republican primaries, and the former president is said to have left his ballot blank last November.
But he never mentioned Trump, and the media never considered there may be a reason why. It may be that Bush, like a lot of Americans, hold the media and its friends on the left responsible for much, if not all, of what Bush lamented on Thursday.