George W. Bush: 'Bigotry seems emboldened' in US

Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that “bigotry seems emboldened” in the United States, warning that Americans need to reject “white supremacy.”

The former president also criticized the “governing class,” but did not specifically mention President Trump, Congress or any other politicians in office.

“Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts” in recent years, Bush said in remarks from New York City at a forum focused on security and sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” said Bush, who has generally stayed out of the public spotlight since leaving the White House in 2009.

Bush also said that public confidence in the country's institutions has declined in recent decades, and warned against “a new era of cyber threats” including Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“Ultimately this assault won’t succeed, but foreign aggressions including cyber attacks, disinformation, and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated,” he said.

The remarks by Bush represent a rare entry into the public debate by the former president, whose family was criticized by Trump during an election cycle where he defeated former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination.

Fears about a rise in bigotry across the country have increased over the last year, making a crescendo with protests in Charlottesville, Va., in August between white supremacist groups and counter-protestors. One woman was killed when a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors.

Trump later came under fierce criticism from politicians in both parties for remarks that blamed both sides for the violence.

“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said in his remarks.

A spokesman for Bush denied that the former president was criticizing Trump in Thursday's speech.

"This was a long-planned speech on liberty and democracy as a part of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative," Freddy Ford told The Hill. "The themes President Bush spoke about today are really the same themes he has spoken about for the last two decades."

The former president also offered support for globalization, a term increasingly criticized by political figures on the left and the right who see increased trade as eroding U.S. jobs.

Bush, who advocates free trade, promoted multilateral and bilateral trade deals during his presidency. Trump is now demanding that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico be renegotiated, under the threat of a U.S. withdrawal.

“We cannot wish globalization away,” Bush said, urging society to “adapt” to economic and social change.

During his speech, Bush also warned that democracies face “new and serious threats” today.

Economic, political and national security challenges “proliferate,” he said.

“And they're made worse by the tendency to turn inward,” he said. “The health of the Democratic spirit itself is at issue and the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand.”

Bush said that the intensity of support for democracy itself has “waned.”

“Especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning,” he said.

“Some have called this Democratic de-consolidation. Merely, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers and forgetfulness,” he said.

“Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy,” he said.

-Updated 12:53 p.m.