During a speech Thursday in New York, George W. Bush said, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of our children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.” He spoke at the Bush Institute’s National Forum on Freedom, Free Markets and Security.
Bush deplored the country’s political divisiveness, saying that “at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” he said.
“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said. “Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”
“Bigotry seems emboldened,” he added. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
Barack Obama took on the issue in Richmond while speaking at a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam.
“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” he said. “Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry. To demonize people who have different ideas.”
Neither of the former leaders mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but their messages seemed aimed at him.
“Our identity as a nation, unlike other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood, …” Bush said in New York. “This means that people from every race, religion, ethnicity can be full and equally American. It means that bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed.”
“Too often,” he added, “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. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, and forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”
“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people,” Obama said at the Virginia rally, “you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later. We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up.”
Both former presidents have made infrequent public policy statements, in keeping with presidential tradition.
Last year, Bush supported the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, one of a large field of Republican contenders Trump defeated for the party’s presidential nomination before winning the November election. Obama campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.