Two former presidents: Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama both re-entered the political maelstrom today with strongly worded messages to Mr. Trump, although they never mentioned his name. At the Spirit of Liberty conference he convened in New York at the George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House, part of Mr. Bush’s speech included these words of wisdom:
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 way of protectionism. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by chaos and despair of distant places.
We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.
We become the heirs of Martin Luther King Jr. by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This means people of every race, ethnicity and religion can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemous against the American creed. It means the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.
And Mr. Obama led rallies for not one, but two Democrats running for office: Phil Murphy who’s running for governor in New Jersey, and Ralph Northam, who’s the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and is hoping to be governor. Now, I realize that not everyone is a fan of our former president, but I don’t think the majority of people can deny what an inspiring and eloquent orator he is. Here are a few takeaways from his speeches today.
What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we’ve seen so many times before that dates back centuries. Some of the things we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.
If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern them.
We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up.
Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities. Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.
For those who follow politics in the U.S., you know how unusual speeches like these are. It’s unheard of for former presidents to direct even implied criticism at their successors. Yet here we have two leaders from opposite ends of the political spectrum, who obviously feel strongly that some of our basic democratic principles that have long been adhered to are in jeopardy. Now the question is, will people listen?