Obama and Bush join forces to rebuke Trump's politics of 'division and fear'

October 23, 2017

Rachael Alexander

October 21 2017 2:30 AM

 Former US president Barack Obama has called on fellow Democrats to reject the politics of "division and fear".

Stepping into the political spotlight for the first time since leaving the White House in January, Mr Obama did not mention President Donald Trump in two campaign speeches, but he did tell crowds that they could send a message to the rest of the country in forthcoming elections.

Earlier another former President George W Bush also attacked "bullying and prejudice" while defending immigrants and trade in a New York speech that appeared to be another critique of President Trump.

Mr Bush (71) used a rare public address to discuss nationalism, racial divisions and Russia's intervention in the 2016 election, all flashpoints of his fellow Republican's nine-month White House tenure.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks after being honored with the Sylvanus Thayer Award at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York,
Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks after being honored with the Sylvanus Thayer Award at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York,

"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," Mr Bush said at the Bush Institute's National Forum on Freedom, Free Markets and Security.

He told a rally in Virginia: "Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That's not who we are."

Mr Obama, who was campaigning with the party's gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, added: "Our democracy's at stake, and it's at stake right here in Virginia."

Like Mr Obama, Mr Bush did not name Mr Trump, but he attacked some of the principles that define the 45th president's political brand.

Mr Bush said: "We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America."

He added: "We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

"We need to recall and recover our own identity. To renew our country, we only need to remember our values."

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states electing new governors this year and those November races will be considered a bellwether of Democrats' strength in the face of Mr Trump's victory last year.

Mr Obama said: "Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back. It's the 21st century, not the 19th century."

The first black president offered himself as proof that the country could move forward, telling the crowd in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, that he is a distant relative of Confederate president Jefferson Davis on his mother's side.

"Think about that," Mr Obama said.

Mr Trump has used nicknames to demean opponents, such as "Crooked Hillary" for Democrat Hillary Clinton and, more recently, "Liddle" Bob Corker for a Republican senator who dared to challenge him.

Mr Bush, president from 2001 to 2009, emphasised the important role of immigrants and of international trade, two policy areas that Mr Trump has cracked down on while in office.

"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," Mr Bush said.

Asked whether the speech was aimed at Mr Trump, a spokesman for Mr Bush said the long-planned remarks echoed themes the former president had discussed for years.

Mr Bush touted US alliances abroad, something Mr Trump has called into question, and he denounced white supremacy, which critics accused Mr Trump of failing to do quickly and explicitly earlier this year.

Mr Bush described a decline in public confidence in institutions and a paralysis in the governing class.

Mr Bush said Americans were the heirs of Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, as well as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

"This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American," he said. "It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed."

Mr Trump has had a rocky relationship with the Bush family. He belittled former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was an early opponent of Mr Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, and has criticised George W Bush for the war in Iraq and for presiding over the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Mr Bush said globalisation could not be wished away "any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution".

He also had harsh words for Russia and seemed to take aim at Mr Trump for playing down Moscow's intervention in the US election.

"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," he said.


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