Without Saying ‘Trump,’ Former President George W. Bush Delivers an Implicit Rebuke to ’45’; Says Bigotry and White Supremacy are ‘Blasphemy Against the American Creed’

Former President George W. Bush spoke in New York on Thursday. Credit Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Former President George W. Bush never mentioned his name but delivered what sounded like a sustained rebuke to President Trump on Thursday, decrying nationalism, protectionism and the coarsening of public debate while calling for a robust response to Russian interference in American democracy.

In a speech in New York, Mr. Bush defended free trade, globalization and immigration even as Mr. Trump seeks to raise barriers to international commerce and newcomers from overseas. He condemned the “casual cruelty” he sees in public discourse and denounced white supremacy two months after Mr. Trump suggested that “both sides” were to blame at a neo-Nazi rally that turned violent in Virginia.

“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Mr. Bush said. “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. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.”

The former president said these afflictions have created a crisis of confidence in the United States that has endangered its historic ideals. “In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity,” he said. “Americans have great advantage. To renew our country we only need to remember our values.”

Mr. Bush addressed these issues at a bipartisan conference that his presidential center sponsored in New York to promote democracy and freedom. Since leaving office in January 2009, he has largely sought to avoid engaging in current-day political struggles, even as he promotes issues he has long cared about like the spread of democracy around the world.

His speech on Thursday seemed a clear rejoinder to Mr. Trump in various ways. Asked by a reporter as he left the hall whether his message would be heard in the White House, Mr. Bush smiled, nodded slightly and said, “I think it will.”

The Bush family has never been fond of Mr. Trump, who beat former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Neither the former president nor his father, former President George Bush, voted for Mr. Trump last November. But advisers said the younger Mr. Bush has been deeply troubled by the state of the national debate under a president who routinely demonizes his adversaries on Twitter.

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children,” Mr. Bush said in his speech. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

Mr. Bush, who issued a statement with his father condemning white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August, returned to the theme. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” he said.

Along with the conference, the president released a paper examining threats to the liberal democratic order and making recommendations for protecting and strengthening American institutions. The paper was drafted by Peter H. Wehner, a former adviser in Mr. Bush’s White House, and Thomas O. Melia, a former State Department official under President Barack Obama.

The conference also featured a panel with two former secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine K. Albright, joining Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Ms. Rice, who served under Mr. Bush, and Ms. Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, seemed to gently coach Ms. Haley, urging the Trump administration to rethink its cuts to the State Department budget and its approach to the United Nations, to protect rather than attack the news media and to make a stronger response to Russian meddling in last year’s election.

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SOURCE: New York Times – Peter Baker