In a rare public speech today, former President George W. Bush blasted the divisive state of American politics, rejecting nativism and warning of a “crisis of confidence.”
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“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” the president said at an event hosted by the George W. Bush Institute in New York City today. “We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.
“We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism. Forgotten the dynamism immigration has always brought to America. The fading value of trade,” he continued. “We've seen the return of isolationist sentiments forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge. In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity.”
He added, "People are hurting. They are angry. And they are frustrated. We must hear and help them but we cannot wish globalization away any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution."
The former president directly challenged those who embrace bigotry and white supremacy -- a nod at the recent violence in Charlottesville.
“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” the president said to applause.
Bush has largely refrained from weighing in on the state of politics since leaving office. In New York today, he warned of the tone used in political discourse.
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone. [It] provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
The president also directly weighed in on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election -- saying there were clearly attempts to subvert our political process.
“According to intelligence services the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It is conducted across a range of social media platforms,” he said. “Ultimately this assault won't succeed.
“Foreign aggressions including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated,” he said. “It's a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.”