For eight years after leaving office, George W. Bush rarely made public comments, and never directly criticized his successor, Barack Obama. Now, the 43rd President seems to feel a bit differently about Donald Trump.
In a speech on Thursday, carried live by national TV networks, Bush opened up with a withering criticism of Trump and Trumpism. Even though he declined to name the current President by name, the target of his remarks was plain.
George W. Bush unloaded on Donald Trump without mentioning him by name
Speaking at an event for his eponymous institute in New York, the president once derided as a simpleton spoke eloquently in opposition to Trump’s brand of populism. Highlights include a direct defense of free trade and globalization.
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.
On free trade and the globalization that it bequeaths, he said:
We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions.
Despite low approval ratings, George W. Bush showed dignity and seriousness when criticizing Trumpism
When he left office, his tenure marred by an unpopular war of choice and an economic crisis, Bush had lower approval ratings than any president since Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.
Despite this, Bush always showed a deep concern for the dignity and seriousness of his office, and tried to show a high-minded idealism.
When he campaigned in 2000, one of his promises was to “restore honor and dignity” to the Oval Office, an implicit rebuke of his sex-scandal-plagued predecessor. Trump, meanwhile, seems ignorant of the very concepts of honor and dignity.
There’s also an implicit subtext to this speech, of President Bush claiming a bit of vindication from the critics who derided him as buffoonish, ignorant, or a kneejerk nationalist authoritarian.
While the criticisms of his tenure are many and legitimate, the contrast is stark to a president who actually does embody the worst sort of caricature that Bush had been accused of being.
(Photo of U.S. President George W. Bush holding a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House July 15, 2008 by Aude Guerrucci)