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George W. Bush Speaks on Divisiveness of U.S. Politics; Florida State of Emergency Ahead of White Supremacist Speech. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 19, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNNA NCHOR: We have breaking news. President George W. Bush, former president we have not seen or heard from much publicly since President Trump took office, speaking right now on the divisive state of American politics right now. Let's listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this Democratic deconsolidation. Really it seems to be a combination weariness, frayed tempers and forgetfulness.

We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns to easily into animosity. Disagreement escalating into dehumanization. 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 competence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty, follow in the wake of protectionism. We've seen the return of isolation sentiments, forgetting that America's security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places where threats such as terrorism and infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge. In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have great advantage. To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.

It's part of the reason we meet here today. How do we begin to encourage a new 21st century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets? That's the question I pose to scholars at the Bush Institute. That's why Pete and Tom are with us today, have answered with the spirit of liberty at home and in the world, the Call to Action paper.

[11:34:57] Recommendations come in broad categories. Here they are. First, America must harden its own defenses. Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy. And that begins with confronting a new era of cyber threats. America's experience of sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It's conducted across a range of social media platforms. Ultimately, this assault won't succeed. But foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation, and financial influence, should never be downplayed or tolerated. It's a clear case where the strength over democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.

The second category of recommendations concerns the projection of American leadership, maintaining America's role in sustaining and defending an international order rooted in freedom and free markets. Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained global engagement and the cultivation of new markets for American goods, in the confrontation of security challenges, before they fully materialize, and arrive on our shores, in the fostering of global health, and development as alternatives to suffering and resentment, in the attraction of talent, energy and enterprise, from all over the world, in serving as a shining hope for refugees and a voice for dissidents, human rights defenders, and the oppressed. We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They're angry and they're frustrated. We must hear and help them, but we cannot wish globalization away, any more than we can wish away the agricultural revolution or industrial revolution. One strength of free society is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions. And that should be our goal. To prepare American workers for new opportunities, to care and practical and empowering ways to those who feel left behind. The first steps to be to enact policies that encourage robust economic growth, by unlocking the potential of the private sector and for unleashing the creativity and compassion of this country.

Third focus of the document is strengthening democratic citizenship. And here we must put particular emphasis on the values and views of the young. Our identity as a nation, unlike many other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We've become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the declaration of independence. We've become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the U.S. Constitution. We've become the heirs of Martin Luther King Jr by recognizing one another, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This means that people of every race, religion, ethnicity, can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American cred.


BUSH: And it means the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation. We need a renewed emphasis on learning in schools and our young people need positive role models. 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 ways to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

Finally, the call to action calls on major institutions of our democracy, public and private, to consciously and urgently attend to the problem of declining trust. For example, our democracy needs a media that is transparent, accurate, and fair. Our democracy needs religious institutions that demonstrate integrity and champion civil discourse. Our democracy needs institutions of higher learning that are examples of truth and free expression. In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation.

[11:40:30] Ten years ago, I attended a conference on democracy and security in Prague. The goal was to put human rights and human freedom at the center of our relationships with repressive governments. The Prague charter, signed by champions of liberty, Basla Kaval (ph), Laton Sharoski (ph), Jose Maria Aznar (ph) called for the isolation of regimes that suppress peaceful opponents by threats or violence. Little did we know a decade later, a crisis of confidence would be developing within the core democracies, making the message of freedom more inhibited and wavering. Little did we know that repressive governments would be undertaking a major effort to encourage division in Western societies and undermine the legitimacy of elections. Repressive rivals along with skeptics here at home misunderstand something important. It's the great advantage of free societies that we creatively adapt to challenges, without the direction of some central authority. Self-correction is a secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal. Right now, one of our worst national problems is the deficit of confidence. But the cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world. It will inspire a rising generation. The American spirit does not say we shall manage or we shall make the best of it. It says we shall overcome. And that is exactly what we're going to do, with God's help.

Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Wow. President George W. Bush, a man we have not heard from publicly very much, since President Trump took office, making a very strong speech, just now.

Let me bring in Mark Preston for a little more on this.

Mark, just for our viewers to highlight some of the comments, some of his words, the former president saying we've seen nativism -- I'm sorry, nationalism distorted into nativism. Bigotry seems emboldened, our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. Remarkable speech.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Not only for the words but for the person who's delivering the words. Kate, as you said, we don't often hear from President George W. Bush. He's kept a low profile, as past presidents have. He's allowed President Obama to have his eight years with very little, if any, interference from him. He often would not speak. We are at this unique time right now in our country's history where the words that he just spoke right now are being felt minute by minute, not only by the institutions that are under attack, whether it is Washington or the media or other institutions, but it's also everybody at this point.

What I thought was really telling, is a couple things he said. One, he talked about the need for the United States to continue to be the leader -- the world leader in democracy. He talked about how presidents for 70 years, this wasn't a partisan or a political issue this was what the destiny was for the United States. He talked about free religion, right to express one's self freely. He talked about a fair and transparent media. Really, some strong words right now coming from President Bush.

BOLDUAN: Also, I mean, not mentioning names as far as I heard anything in what we took of the speech but the message seems very clear. This coming -- his comments coming on the heels of John McCain offering a very similar call. It's really striking.

PRESTON: It really is. We heard Senator McCain make those comments a couple nights ago in Philadelphia where he received a very prestigious award. Look, you know, John McCain and George W. Bush aren't necessarily friends and didn't necessarily always agree on policy issues when President Bush was in office. But it does say something, though, when you hear these two gentlemen, who are talking about the need for the United States to look inward at itself and say what are we doing right now, what do we need to get the train back on the track. He didn't use President Trump's name at all. I'm not surprised by that. But the message is very clear, it was directed at President Trump, also directed at the leaders here in Congress. The partisanship in Washington seems to be at an all-time high. When that happens, nothing happens.

[11:45:13] BOLDUAN: Yes. And it goes without saying, of course, we all remember what happened in this election. Donald Trump ran on in large part against the world view of George W. Bush. He -- and won that. So on some level not a surprise that clearly these two men see differently on -- have a different world view, but it's a fascinating to see this.

PRESTON: Yes. No doubt. You know, when you look back at the 2016 election, there's a lot of reasons why president -- now President Trump won. A lot of that was anger, though, at Washington and understandable anger where people felt left behind. When that happens and you see other countries look like they're benefiting from the United States while they themselves personally are not, you are going to get this nativism kind of feeling. It is something I think that can be turned around. I think President Bush right there telling all of us we might want to take a pause, think about it for a little bit and try to go back to what the United States did best, and that was spread democracy around the world.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Mark, stick with me.

Let me bring in Kaitlan Collins at the White House listening to this with us as well.

Kaitlan, as I mentioned, you know, Donald Trump ran on and won on largely against -- in part at least against the world view of President George W. Bush.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. We haven't heard a lot from George W. Bush during these few months of the Trump presidency. But one thing that really stuck out to me from that speech was, him saying that you must reject bigotry and denounce white supremacy, the thing about nationalism being distorted into nativism, as you pointed out earlier, and reminded me of the statement that both Bushes, both former presidents, put out after those deadly clashes in Charlottesville that left one woman dead and after President Trump had been criticized for saying there was violence on all sides in Charlottesville. Both of those former presidents both Bushes, put out a joint statement. And they didn't directly criticize the president, let me be clear there. But they did say they reject bigotry, anti- Semitism, saying the country must come together. We really heard him echo that again right there. Some people will, obviously, draw the conclusion ween that and the president's remarks to Charlottesville. But that was one of the biggest things he was saying, you know, leaders of our nations must pass on the civic values they want to see. Saying that people must not be bullies. A lot of those topics a lot of people have criticized our current president for being guilty of, they say. So we see Bush, that could be an indirect remark to the president's response to those Charlottesville comments there -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And, Mark, that was one of the applause lines we heard when we were listening when President Bush said, "bigotry and white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed." That isn't a shocking thought, but it is noteworthy, in the context that Kaitlan very well laid out there, because of the controversy about what the president said after the Charlottesville violence. What does this all mean, do you think? Why now? Why does George W. Bush feel the need -- why does he want to enter this conversation do you think?

PRESTON: That's a really good question. He's been very quiet up to this point. You know, look, it's not as if the Bushes and President Trump are very close. They're not at all. But at some point, you know, I think that he probably thought it was time for him to speak up about the ideals that he espoused when he was president eight years and the four years that his father spent as the president and the eight years his father spent as the vice president.

I think, though, what he's saying there, is that we all don't have to fall in line behind one idea. In a democracy, the idea that you can agree to disagree, but you do so in a civil manner, is what really makes a democracy rich and a democracy civil. When you look inward, when you talk about not trying to engage on the world, you know, around the world globally, then what you're doing is setting yourself up for failure and doing your citizens a big disservice.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, if you're still with me, remind our viewers, it's not like we've heard anything from the White House in responding to what George W. Bush's message was there. But after John McCain gave a very similar speech, very similar message, that is what kind of sparked the latest attacks back, the latest back and forth between President Trump and John McCain.

[11:49:45] COLLINS: Yes. That's right. There has been a lot of back and forth between them to say the least. The president still frustrated over McCain's "no" vote on that health care bill over the summer. And just this week, when the president was here right next door to the White House, in the executive office building, doing a slew of radio interview, he was asked about John McCain's criticism of him and he was saying that he fights on those things. So we've seen him be incredibly critical him so far. Not likely that will end anytime soon. He regularly brings up his frustration with him.

But really a fascinating speech here by George W. Bush, someone who has not been overtly critical of the president. But right there, he said the only way to live up, to display sitting values and to instill them in people is to live up to them. And he very strongly denounced white supremacy in that speech.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Mark, thanks for joining.

Really appreciate it, guys.

Fascinating speech from President Bush in New York City.

Coming up next, we're talking about white supremacy. President Bush speaking out against it. Let's talk about where it will be popping up next. A state of emergency at the University of Florida ahead of the speech from a white supremacist. How are they preparing? Why is he there? We'll go there. That's next.


[11:55:25] BOLDUAN: Part of Florida under a state of emergency but not because of a pending hurricane or natural disaster, but because of a speech. In just a few hours, White Supremacist Richard Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Spencer helped organize the violent protests that broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, which turned deadly over the summer. So there's now there are fears something like that could happen in Gainesville. The university and city are trying to make sure that's exactly what does not happen though.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Gainesville with the lead up to this.

Rosa, what are you seeing? Are they prepared? ROSA FLORES, CNN CORREPONDENT: They are prepared. All you have to do

is look behind me. You can see the presence of law enforcement here on this campus. I can tell you, Kate, from the moment we arrived in this city, you could feel the presence, the sense that there was preparation, that there was a lot of law enforcement here.

And one of the other important things they've done that we've noticed, especially because this has been one to have big lessons from other protests we've seen around the country we've covered, is the fact that a lot of times, the protesters converge. Both sides are protesting in the same area. That's not the case here. The plan is to have two separate pins. This pin to my left, that is for one set of protesters. Then you have this buffer zone where you see these officers. It's about 50 yards long. And the section for the other set of protesters is on the other side. So there's this gigantic buffer, Kate, that officers have secured. And only officers are allowed here and that is deliberate. That is to give everyone the opportunity to express their First Amendment right, but also to do it safely. To make sure they have a safe space to do so -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right. The speech is coming up. The university saying they've spent more than $600,000 on security. Let let's see what happens.

Rosa, thank you.

Soon, President Trump will be sitting down with the governor of Puerto Rico. There he is earlier today on Capitol Hill today. Now he's heading to the White House. This comes as Puerto Rico marks one month since Hurricane Maria devastated the island. One month on, and the island is still mostly without power. Millions of Americans still struggling for necessities. We'll bring you that when we get it.