It made me nostalgic to see George W. Bush back in public last Thursday, but one part of his speech has continued to haunt me. It was not Bush's apparent take-down of the current Republican president. Hey, if that's what he wants to do, it's a free country.
No, the part of the speech that has continued to trouble me was the most true and moving segment of what W. had to say. It was these words:
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. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence. We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the U.S. Constitution. We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
An eloquent statement and it sums up why our country is good and great: the United States is based on ideals embodied in our Founding documents. So why did I find this disturbing? For heaven's sake W., admit this: it is these very ideals that are under attack and under attack in the precincts of the left (the very precincts that are now heaping praise upon you for a "smack down" of your current successor).
C'mon, W. Do you think the vicious students shouting down speakers with whom they disagree are "the heirs of James Madison"?
If you are going to talk about the American ideal and our being heirs to James Madison, President Bush, you've got to do more than condemn white supremacy. All decent people condemn white supremacy. It doesn't take much guts to do that. But along with condemning the vicious germ of white supremacy, it is necessary to condemn the increasing authoritarianism of the left.
Sure, offer veiled criticisms of President Trump. Even those of us who applaud many of his political actions, especially with regard to the economy, do not lead cringe-free lives. But the critique should also include the man before President Trump, the one who opened the flood gates of hatred. There was a president before Trump who instead of calming the nation after terrible events such as Ferguson or the death of Trayvon Martin used these tragedies to stir up hated. W. made no veiled criticisms of that president, whose un-Madisonian actions included equating his pen and phone the Constitution and trying to strip Catholic nuns of their right to religious liberty.
There was another deeply troubling moment in the speech:
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. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.
First off, it was this idea of this "governing class" that led many Americans to cast their votes for Donald Trump. They were weary of this "governing class" that the former president cites without seeming to realize the implications of the phrase.
And people aren't merely "left behind in a changing economy." Opportunities have been choked off by regulation and other measures that have been put in place by that "governing class."
And, yes, bigotry has been emboldened. This should make us all sick. But the former president neglects to mention that bigotry is bipartisan.
I'd never accuse George W. Bush of a lack of courage. He is also a good and decent man. It was a pleasure to see him and he reminded me of a more normal atmosphere.
But it is sad that this former president seemed at times to have adopted the left's critique of politics and society.
If anybody should know better, it's W.