In his finest hour, Bush sounds the alarm on Trump

On Thursday, former President George W. Bush gave one of the most important and profound speeches in modern presidential history, in remarks almost universally viewed as a warning of the dangers of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE's presidency — without ever mentioning his name.

In a speech that offered a powerful statement on the core vision of Americanism, Bush warned of the dangers of bullying and prejudice in politics. He warned the nation about nationalism that is distorted into nativism and that divides America from its democratic friends in the world.

He warned the nation about intolerance and bigotry that divides our people against each other and demeans the values that patriotic Americans share.


I covered similar matters in my column in The Hill this week. The speech by former President Bush lifted the debate to a presidential level of patriotism. It followed an equally profound speech by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Redistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race MORE (R-Ariz.) warning about a "half-baked, spurious nationalism" that reminds him of conditions in the 1930s that preceded World War II.

During his vital and historically important speech, Bush condemned a political discourse that sets a negative national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry.

In his call for national unity and racial justice, Bush said bigotry and white supremacy in any form are blasphemy against the American creed and warned against politics that are polluted by conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. He warned of a democratic vision that is under attack from foreign enemies.

While former President Bush was making his case, former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaLabor agency bucks courts to attack independent workers No Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way Biden should pivot to a pro-growth strategy on immigration reform MORE was making almost exactly the same points in speeches in New Jersey and Virginia with his call for national unity, mutual respect and social progress.

Not long ago, Newton Minow, the FCC commissioner under President Kennedy, called on all living former presidents from both political parties to speak out together against the dangers of the Trump presidency. Slowly but surely, this is now coming to pass, with two former presidents representing both major parties making powerful and compelling statements on the same day, driving home the same point.

Consider the scope and magnitude of the warnings about the dangers of the Trump presidency that have been offered in recent days — and by whom.

The previous Republican president and the last Democratic president followed the warning from the 2008 Republican nominee and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. McCain, and the warning from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (R-Tenn.), who sounded an alarm about the increasing odds of World War III. 

President Bush's speech was a landmark event that will ultimately be seen by historians as a major inflection point in which the dangers of the Trump presidency were seen as so severe and ominous that speaking out became a responsibility for those who have led our nation before.

It is unprecedented for a sitting president to falsely criticize his presidential predecessors — as Trump recently did — for not caring enough about troops who gave their lives in service to our country.

It is equally unprecedented, and far more historically profound, when former presidents feel patriotically compelled to speak out against the dangers created by a successor president.

Until this week, President Bush made it a defining habit to not criticize the presidents who followed them. This week, George W. Bush felt morally and patriotically compelled to speak out with clarity at a critical and dangerous moment. It was his finest hour.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.