WASHINGTON - Former U.S. president George W. Bush on Thursday spoke against the country's political divisiveness, saying that "at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together."
Bush, the country's 43rd president, a Republican who served two terms in office from 2001 to 2009, never mentioned President Donald Trump by name in a New York speech, but his message seemed aimed at him for his frequent Twitter taunts against political rivals, his attempts to curb immigration into the U.S., and his abandonment of international trade deals.
"We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty," Bush said. "Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization."
"Bigotry seems emboldened," Bush said. "Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.
"Our identity as a nation, unlike other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood ..." Bush said. "This means that people from every race, religion, ethnicity can be full and equally American. It means that bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed."
He added, "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, and forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.
"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," Bush said. "We've seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge."
Since leaving office, Bush has only infrequently made public policy statements, largely staying quiet about Washington political debates during the White House tenure of his successor, former president Barack Obama.
Bush last year supported the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, one of a large field of Republican contenders Trump defeated for the party's presidential nomination before winning the November election against his Democratic challenger, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.