Steve Bannon, the keynote speaker at this weekend’s California Republican Party convention, is the self-described “wingman” for President Donald Trump. During his speech, he unleashed a tirade against former President George W. Bush, for whom I worked.
The vitriol-fueled attack aimed at the former president, included venom usually reserved for playground disputes or cocktail party gossip. Responses from the audience ranged from gasps to tepid applause.
So what did the former president do to earn the ire of the Trump administration’s most ardent supporter? Last week, without mentioning anyone by name, George W. Bush weighed in on some of the damaging aspects of the nation’s current political climate.
At a forum in New York, sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute, the former president described a casual cruelty that has degraded our discourse.
President Bush used his remarks to provide a badly needed history lesson and pep talk for a nation weary of acrimony. Urging civility and humility, Bush said: “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.”
He reminded us that our nation’s history is rich with contributions from immigrants.
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” he said.
He acknowledged disruption caused by the shift to a global economy: “We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization.
“People are hurting. … We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution.”
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion, and called bigotry in any form “blasphemy against the American creed.”
Harsh words? Bannon seems to have thought so. On Friday night, Bannon responded to the speech with personal attacks against the former president. Nothing like some casual cruelty to shoot down accusations of casual cruelty.
In 1999, as a recent college graduate, idealistic and unsure which path I wanted to pursue in life, I was grateful to land a job as a staffer on the Bush for President Campaign.
I became a true believer and taken with then-Texas Gov. Bush’s message of “compassionate conservatism.” I was energized to work for someone who held strong convictions, which I shared, and someone who led with class and compassion. In my view, he brought the Republican Party to where it belongs.
As president, George W. Bush was no different. He set the tone from the top, to respect others, even those – especially those – who disagreed with him. He brought out the best in his staff, inspiring us by example to work toward greater good, not to simply chase selfish ambition or external accolades.
When an ousted staffer wrote a scathing tell-all critical of the president and his administration, President Bush directed his staffers immediately to forgive their former colleague, refrain from disparaging commentary and focus on the work at hand.
On Saturday night, President Bush joined the living former presidents and in a display of unity, shared a stage to raise money for victims of recent hurricanes. I tell my kids to look for the good, and to look for those who are helping. I’m grateful that during these challenging times, we have examples of leaders who rise above petty politics for the greater good of all Americans.
President Bush’s remarks were a badly needed reminder of America’s true character and the ideals this nation was built on. That’s something we could use more of these days.
Ashley Snee Giovannettone, a Sacramento consultant, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.