Davis: The decency value

Davis: The decency value
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I have told this story many times in print and on the air. Now it is even more important to repeat it.

In the spring of 1966, my junior year at Yale College, a classmate of mine who would be called gay today, but back then much worse words were used, walked past a group of us sitting in the Davenport College common room after dinner, shooting the breeze.

Someone in the group, now looking back, someone who was a bigot, chuckled and loudly whispered — loud enough for the individual walking past us to hear — the “F” word. I cringed — but said nothing. 


Then I heard an angry and harsh voice, saying something like: “Hey, knock it off! Why don’t you put yourself in his shoes and see how it feels?”


I cursed myself for not having the courage to speak up at that moment with words like these. I turned to see who it was who did.

It was George W. Bush, a year behind me as a sophomore, a fellow resident of Davenport and my fraternity brother at the social nonresidential fraternity of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE). 

I knew George casually then — mostly from playing pool and partying at DKE. Also, as a pretty good pitcher on the Yale baseball team. He was liked by virtually everyone.

As soon as we heard his words, most of us turned to him, startled. Who was this George Bush? It was as if we hadn’t known him before now. And most of us, like me, decided then: We need to know this guy better. He had taught us an important lesson — silence is not an option in the face of indecency, cruelty, bigotry, bullying toward others. 

I thought about that moment 34 years later when George W. Bush was elected America’s 43rd president. And many times since then. I didn’t vote for him in 2000 or 2004. I’m a liberal, he’s a conservative. But I always admired him most of all because of his core value that I saw that day at Yale — the Decency Value. It’s in his family DNA — his dad, the 41st president, and his grandfather, Prescott Bush, who served nobly in the U.S. Senate representing Connecticut in the 1950s as a moderate Republican who had the courage to stand up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). 

I also thought about that George Bush and that value when I read and watched on TV his speech last week in New York at the George W. Bush Institute event. The words were different and more focused — but the subject was the same: He was raising his voice against indecent words and conduct toward others. There was no doubt about whom he was talking, although not mentioning his name. Everyone knew.  The Washington Post’s headline made it explicit:

“George W. Bush’s unmistakable takedown of Trumpism — and Trump.”

Here are the quotes the Post chose from former President Bush’s speech. I will simply add in brackets the words “[by Trump]” that we all know George W. Bush meant, but chose not to say explicitly:

“Bigotry seems emboldened” [by Trump].

“Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” [by Trump].

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty” [by Trump].

“Argument turns too easily into animosity” [by Trump].

“…. [B]igotry and white supremacy [tolerated by Trump] in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life [by Trump] … provides permission for cruelty and bigotry [by Trump].”

It is time for all Americans — liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, pro-Trump voters and pro-Clinton voters — to speak up; time especially for congressional Republicans to follow the example of Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE, who challenged Trump for unstable behavior, divisive Tweets and reckless words that could bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Silence is no longer an option.

It’s time for all of us, including our heroic four star generals, who believe that the Decency Value is what truly makes America great — it’s time to say to President Trump:  Enough.  

Davis, a weekly columnist for The Hill newspaper, is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98 and a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created on the recommendation of the “9/11 Commission.” Davis has been on a leave of absence from his weekly “Purple Nation” column for the past eight months while completing a book on the 2016 presidential campaign, due to be published early next year.