In separate appearances, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have implicitly criticized Donald Trump, warning that US society is being damaged by division, bigotry, and incitement of hatred.
At a conference that he convened in New York to support democracy, Bush said the US had to “recover our own identity” as it faces challenges basic ideals:
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. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.
Obama, in his first campaign speech since leaving office, said in New Jersey:
What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries. Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That has folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!
In Virginia, he implicitly responded to Trump’s false accusations this week that he had not called or visited the families of troops killed in combat or shown concern for the wounded: “I can tell you as somebody who visited Walter Reed consistently throughout my eight years what it meant to have a medical staff that was literally helping to rebuild people’s lives.”
The statements follow Monday’s speech by Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for President against Obama in 2008, which called out “half-baked, spurious nationalism”. Trump responded the next evening by warning McCain, “At some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”
Bigotry and Conspiracy Theories
Bush linked his message about Trump to warnings about themes that have been promoted by Trump’s supporters, including elements of the hard right and alt-right:
Bigotry seems emboldened….Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…..We know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed; it the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.
He then appeared to address Trump’s behavior in person and on social media: “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children.”
Obama put out the wider message: “The world counts on America having its act together. The world is looking to us as an example. The world asks what our values and ideals are and are we living up to our creed.”
“Bush the Globalist”
Trump has not yet responded. However, the attack site Breitbart — whose chief executive and former White House chief executive Steve Bannon has declared “#WAR” on the Republican establishment — struck at Bush. It derided the former President as a “globalist”
, Breitbart’s pejorative term for anyone that opposes Bannon’s economic approach, and sneered at his “divisive call for unity”.
The site also tried to minimize Obama’s remarks, headlining that the 44th President “Hits Trail with Lolz”.