George W. Bush gave a speech at the George W. Bush Institute in New York on Thursday. First of all, congrats to the George W. Bush Institute on booking George W. Bush for this event—one imagines he must have been their first choice! Second, the speech has been covered as a “takedown” of Donald Trump. But, sadly, it was not.
Bush did make some implicit references to the current president, who he did not mention by name:
- “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
- “Too often 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, forgotten the dynamism immigration has always brought to America.”
- “According to intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other … foreign aggressions including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated.”
- “People of every race, religion and ethnicity can be fully and equally American … bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
- “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone.”
For this speech to be a “takedown,” though, someone would have to get taken down, and oblique remarks about being tolerant and elevating the discourse—given more than a year after Bush stayed quiet while his party nominated a candidate who openly cultivated the support of white supremacists and belittled his brother Jeb in personal terms on a daily basis—are not going to move the needle.
To be cynical, and to put it in orotund, indirect terms like George W. Bush might, you could even suggest that, for many powerful figures in Republican politics and the business community, rejecting alt-right white supremacism is more of a matter of maintaining one’s personal reputation in polite society than it is an actual political goal. Actual opposition takes time, money, and effort; saving face only requires a microphone, a few clichés about American values, and a cable news camera.