By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS—Former President George W. Bush spoke plain truth during his remarks commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
He also did his best to save his fellow Republicans from the fury and irrationality that have come to hold their party captive.
Speaking at the memorial for Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Bush talked about how the attacks on this country two decades ago taught Americans many things.
The attacks showed us that we were vulnerable but not fragile, the former president said. That bravery was more common than we might have imagined. That any time with our loved ones, however brief, was an experience to be treasured.
All of this was good and wise and true.
But the heart of Bush’s speech dealt with the forces we Americans should and must oppose
“Many Americans struggled to understand why an enemy would hate us with such zeal. The security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability. And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them,” Bush said.
There was truth in this, too.
And the former president was speaking it to the members of his own party, the ones who cower before defeated former President Donald Trump and the mobs that embrace and even support Trump’s many lies.
One of the puzzling and frustrating things about the modern GOP has been its abandonment of so many of its own principles.
Chief among these was Republicans’ support for American traditions and institutions. To be a Republican for most of my life was to have a reverence for the rule of law and a bedrock commitment to the parts of American life and government—the courts, law-enforcement agencies, etc.—that preserved that rule.
One might and often did disagree with Republicans of the old school, but it was impossible not to respect their devotion to their vision of a thriving, orderly and opportunity-driven society governed by a system that treasured American institutions and core beliefs.
Now, it is hard to know what the Republican Party is, other than a gathering of disgruntled souls connected only by a series of vaguely connected grievances, some real and some not.
It’s tempting—and much too easy—to blame Donald Trump for all of this.
The reality, though, is that he is the symptom, not the disease itself. All the evidence suggests that the dark forces he represents will continue to infect this land long after he has left the scene.
That is especially true for the Republican Party Trump has come to lead.
It’s also the reason Bush’s remarks are so important.
The former president was trying to remind Republicans of who they once were.
And who they once again can be.
He told them of a time when conservatives embraced the brotherhood and sisterhood of an increasingly diverse America, a time when Republicans saw pluralism as a strength, not a weakness.
And not a threat.
“At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know,” Bush said.
“At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know.”
These were welcome words.
Many of us miss the Republican Party as it once was.
The truth is that this nation does not work well without a strong and well-moored GOP. Our country does not work well without two vital and sane political parties pushing and prodding each other, prompting Americans to weigh and balance questions of fairness and opportunity.
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, George W. Bush mused that Bush’s presidency might end up being the last genuine Republican presidency in American history.
Let’s hope W. is wrong about that.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.