In the eloquent, 15 minute address, Bush warned against threats to democracy and American values.
Many observers believe that the speech contained veiled references to Donald Trump, even though a Bush never mentioned President Trump by name. In the speech, Bush warned against both external threats such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation as well as internal threats from lack of faith in government and institutions, bigotry, conspiracy theories and “outright fabrication.”
“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said in a widely quoted passage. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Bush listed several recommendations for the future. First, he called for defenses against external threats, including Russian cyberattacks intended “to turn Americans against each other.” Second, Bush called for America to remain a global leader in freedom and free markets.
President Bush delivered an impassioned argument against bigotry as part of his third point, a focus on strengthening democratic citizenship. In a line that received sustained applause, Bush said, “It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”
Bush called “a deficit of confidence” the worst American problem, but ended the speech with a stirring tribute to the American spirit.
“The American spirit does not say, ‘We shall manage,’ or ‘We shall make the best of it,’” Bush said. “It says, ‘We shall overcome.’ And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another.”