Since leaving office in 2009, he has kept a relatively low profile. But on Thursday, the former president took to the stage to heavily criticize the current trajectory of US politics.
Former US President George W. Bush on Thursday condemned bigotry and isolationism in a rare speech that many have interpreted as an implicit rebuke of the politics and policies of President Donald Trump.
"Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them," Bush said at the George W. Bush Institute in New York City.
Without naming names
Bush, who was president between 2001 and 2009, did not mention Trump by name. But Bush's comments appeared to be aimed at the current president who faces frequent criticism for his perceived denigration of minority groups and coarse presidential style.
"Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication," Bush said. "We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty."
The 71-year-old Bush had refused to endorse Trump after he beat Bush's brother, Jeb, to be elected the Republish party's candidate during the 2016 presidential election.
The former president also implicitly criticized Trump's aversion to traditional US policies on free trade and global leadership.
"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," he said, adding that globalization could not be wished away "any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution."
Former US presidents tend to shy away from criticizing their successors directly.
Russia turning Americans against each other
Bush also used the speech to denounce Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, an accusation Trump had brushed off as a "hoax."
"According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy," Bush said.
Despite the clear undertones targeting Trump, Bush spokesman Freddy Ford did not say it was intended to target the current president.
"The themes President Bush spoke about today are really the same themes he has spoken about for the last two decades," he said.
Obama denounces 'politics of division'
Former President Barack Obama also criticized politics under Trump's presidency at a campaign rally in the US state of New Jersey on Thursday.
Barack Obama, former US President, speaking at a rally 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," Obama said at an event for Phil Murphy, the Democratic Party's candidate for the upcoming election for the state's governor.
The speech also marked a departure for Obama, who was president between 2009 and 2017, after months of remaining relatively silent on political debates in the US.
"Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back," Obama said. "It's the 21st century, not the 19th century."
amp/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)