Schisms and Isms

by Jay Nordlinger

On Thursday, George W. Bush gave a remarkable speech, enunciating what may be thought of as a pre-Trump conservatism. He said, for example, “Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement.”

Let me pause for a language note: I’m always griping about the misplacement of “only.” It ruins sentence after sentence. “Only,” in the above statement, should go between “found” and “in.”

But back to the main point. GWB asked what I regard as the key question: “How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st-century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets?”

It really should be “in behalf,” but I’ll stop with my language notes.

Bush also said this: “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.”

Yes, it does, in my view. I thought of something Bush said in February 2016, in an interview I did with him in Dallas: “The isms of isolationism and protectionism and nativism run deep in our history, and we’re seeing some of that now in the political arena. Not some of it. We’ve seen a lot of it.” And in succumbing to those “isms,” he said, we Americans are “endangering ourselves more.”

Let me get to something terribly old-fashioned now. For the last many months, I’ve said that I don’t like the name-calling — the name-calling from the Oval Office. The name-calling from the president. Like it or not, a president sets an example, not least for the young.

“Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker” (I can’t explain the apostrophe), “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Eyes Todd,” “Low IQ Crazy Mika,” “Psycho Joe,” etc., etc. Really?

I have a memory of the 2016 general-election campaign. Indirectly, President Obama referred to Trump as a demagogue. In response, Mike Pence said, “I don’t think name-calling has any place in public life.”

That was so cute.

Anyway, on Thursday, Bush had an arresting statement: “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.” Those last two words, “casual cruelty,” are particularly arresting. And he said, “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.”

This sounds as distant as Cotton Mather. But it’s still true. And I’m grateful that George W. Bush had the gumption to say it.

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