The criticism stems from the perception that Bush was attacking Donald Trump in the speech, even though Bush never specifically mentioned Trump.
In the speech, Bush laid out the case for traditional conservative solutions and decried a number of disturbing trends that are rocking western countries. Among the problems that Bush cited are lack of public confidence in institutions and democracy, bigotry, casual cruelty, nativism, and isolationism. Pundits, both on the left and the right, assume this to be an attack on Trumpist populism.
What most observers miss is that many of these problems are as easily attributed to the left as to the right. For example, wasn’t it Barack Obama who argued that America should have a smaller role in world affairs and who led the national retreat from the world stage? With his opposition to free trade and interventionist foreign policy, Bernie Sanders can be called an isolationist as easy as Donald Trump.
It was also Barack Obama’s presidency that saw public faith in government shattered. Ironically, the president for whom government was the solution to every problem presided over eight years in which public confidence in almost every branch of government fell to historic lows.
With respect to bullying and bigotry, would Trump supporters and others on the right argue that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are not bullies and bigots who engage in casual cruelty? Leftist groups that promote violence in place of civil discourse and who value one ethnicity over others are as deserving of these labels as anyone.
But in fairness, President Bush’s words do bear a strong resemblance to President Trump as well. If the president’s partisans get defensive on these counts, it is probably because the general denunciation of policies and attitudes can be applied as easily to the new Republican Party as to the left. It is only by looking back to past Republican presidents, that we can fully see much the GOP has changed in recent years.
The “deficit of confidence” that President Bush named as “one of our worst national problems” applies not only to both Donald Trump and Barack Obama, but to Democrats and Republicans in general. For more than a decade, government has seemed incapable of addressing anything but the simplest problems. If you need a post office named, they can do that. Anything more significant gets bogged down in partisan stalemate.
President Bush’s speech was not aimed at Donald Trump. Or rather, it was not aimed only at Donald Trump. But it is understandable why Trump partisans would take offense. It is, after all, the truth.
If the shoe fits, wear it.