The presidency of George H.W. Bush, a genteel upper-class New Englander who died last night, was—while certainly not scandal-free—arguably the last to have seen genuine civility and bipartisanship in Washington.
All that changed two years after his presidential defeat in 1995, however, when Newt Gingrich was elected House speaker, having pioneered a strategy of aggression and division in the once-convivial (relatively speaking) Congress. In 2016, America elected a president who matched the crude, gloves-off attitude that by then had ruled the House for 20 years.
Trump and Bush’s differing approaches to politics are apparent in each of their most memorable speeches on the road to the presidency.
When Bush accepted the Republican presidential nomination, he called for a “kindler, gentler nation.” By contrast, Trump’s inauguration speech saw him rage about “American carnage” and said the country’s only vision would be “America first, America first.”
Trump had scorned Bush’s message since well before 2016, however. When asked by Playboy in 1990 whether he believed Bush was “soft,” Trump replied:
I like George Bush very much and support him and always will. But I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist. I think if we had people from the business community—the Carl Icahns, the Ross Perots—negotiating some of our foreign policy, we’d have respect around the world.
Bush didn’t attend Trump’s inauguration, sending a typically genial letter in his place.