Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush separately took thinly veiled swipes at President Donald Trump, the former urging voters to reject a growing “politics of division” and his predecessor blasting “bullying and prejudice” while defending immigrants and trade.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama told campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia Thursday that voters could send a powerful message about the type of politics they want by backing Democrats in November 7 elections in the two states.
“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 told a cheering crowd in Newark, New Jersey, that chanted: “Four more years.”
“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.”
At a later stop in Richmond, Virginia, Obama said modern politics increasingly did not reflect basic American values of inclusiveness and were driving people away from the process.
“We’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage. Sometimes that feels frustrating,” Obama said.
Obama made the remarks just hours after the 71-year old Bush, a Republican, used a rare public address to discuss nationalism, racial divisions and Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, all flashpoints of the nine-month White House tenure of Trump, whom he also did not name.
“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 Bush Institute’s National Forum on Freedom, Free Markets and Security.
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.
Bush, president from 2001 to 2009, emphasized the important role of immigrants and of international trade, two policy areas that Trump has cracked down on while in office.
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Bush said.
“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.”
In the speech, Bush described a decline in public confidence in U.S. institutions and a paralysis in the governing class to address pressing needs.
“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.”
Trump was a longtime proponent of a false theory that Democratic former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Obama, Trump’s predecessor, was born in the U.S. state of Hawaii.
Bush said Americans were the heirs of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. 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.”