The former president took to the stage to criticize the trajectory of US politics under Trump. But the same day Chief of Staff John Kelly gave a passionate defense of Trump's outreach to grieving military families.
Former US President George W. Bush , who has kept a low profile since leaving office in 2009, took the stage on Thrusday to condemn bigotry and isolationism in a rare speech that many have interpreted as an implicit rebuke of the politics and policies of President Donald Trump.
"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 way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them," Bush said at the George W. Bush Institute in New York City. He add that, "Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."
Without naming names
Bush, who took office in 2001, did not mention Trump by name. But Bush's comments appeared to be aimed at the current president who faces frequent criticism for his perceived denigration of minority groups and coarse presidential style.
The 71-year-old Bush had refused to endorse Trump after he beat Bush's brother, Jeb, to be elected the Republish party's candidate during the 2016 presidential election.
The former president also implicitly criticized Trump's aversion to traditional US policies on free trade and global leadership.
"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," he said, adding that globalization could not be wished away "any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution."
Bush also used the speech to denounce Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, describing it as "broad, systematic and stealthy." Trump has brushed off the accusation as a "hoax."
Former US presidents tend to shy away from criticizing their successors directly.
Despite the clear undertones targeting Trump and his policies, Bush spokesman Freddy Ford did not say it was intended to target the current president.
"The themes President Bush spoke about today are really the same themes he has spoken about for the last two decades," he said.
Obama denounces 'politics of division'
Former President Barack Obama also criticized politics under Trump's presidency at a campaign rally in the US state of New Jersey on Thursday for Phil Murphy, the Democratic Party's candidate for the upcoming election for the state's governor.
"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries," Obama said the event
Like Bush, Obama has remained relatively silent on political debates in the US since ceding the Oval Office to Trump this past January.
Kelly defends Trump
Trump's supporters also defended him publically on Thursday, however. The president's Chief of Staff John Kelly gave a rare unannounced appearance at the White House in which he backed Trump's recent phone call to the wife of a fallen serviceman that had been denounced by a democratic lawmaker and the family as insensitive.
Kelly criticized Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for revealing the content of the president's condolence call with the media.
"I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing," Kelly said. "And I thought at least that was sacred," he added, referring to the personal messages that authorities, from presidents and military commanders, pass on the military families who lose a loved one.
Wilson had slammed Trump for saying that the fallen serviceman "knew what he signed up for." But Kelly put the president's words in the context of past conversations between himself and the president, as well as his own experience in learning of the news of his son Robert's death in Afghanistan.
When Kelly's son was killed, the general delivering the news to Kelly said that Robert "was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we're at war ... when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That's what the president tried to say" in his phone call to soldier's family, Kelly said.
Trump had also brought President Obama into the controversy around miltiary condolence, questioning on Monday whether his predecessor had called Kelly upon the now chief of staff's son's death.
Kelly confirmed that Obama had not called, adding matter of factly that "that was not a criticism."
Kelly said he had advised Trump not to place calls to family members because there was no possible way to ease their pain. However, he added that Trump made those calls "very bravely."
cmb, amp/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)