Former President George W. Bush warned about the rise of bigotry in the U.S. and the consequences of rejecting the outside world as he delivered a speech at the "Spirit of Liberty" forum in New York City on Thursday.
Though he never explicitly mentioned President Donald Trump, Bush's remarks represented a staunch rejection of the commander-in-chief's embrace of isolationism and hyper-nationalism.
"Our identity as a nation—unlike many other nations—is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility," Bush said.
"We need to recall and recover our own identity," he added. "To renew our country, we only need to remember our values."
In today's America, "bigotry seems emboldened" and "nationalism [has been] distorted into nativism," Bush said. "Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication." The former president worries such trends are eroding democracy.
In what was perhaps his strongest rebuke of Trump, Bush warned against permitting "casual cruelty."
"Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry," the former president said.
"Bigotry or white supremacy is blasphemy against the American creed," Bush added. This statement stands in stark contrast with Trump's controversial "many sides" remark about the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia amid a neo-Nazi rally in August.
Bush recognized the challenges that have emerged due to increasing globalization, but warned against turning inward.
"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," Bsh said.
At a time when Trump is actively seeking to reduce foreign influence on the U.S. in multiple respects, Bush sought to remind the audience that immigration has always brought a "dynamism" to America.
Much of his speech painted a bleak picture of the present state of the world, but the former president also said he's confident America will overcome the obstacles it is facing.
"The cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world, and it will inspire a rising generation," Bush said.
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