The 43rd U.S. president never mentioned President Donald Trump by name. But he critiqued “America first policies” and treatment of immigrants. He also emphasized his love of reading and the importance of history in a manner that resembled an extended verbal series of subtweets of Trump.
“The presidency is more important than the one who occupies the office,” Bush said. “I understand a lot of people are concerned right now, but let me take you back to 1968.” He detailed the protests, assassinations and wars that created a cataclysm so great that Bush, then 22, “wondered how we were going to make it.” One reason America will be resilient, he argued, is its sense of its own history.
After the September 11 attacks, Bush said, “people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, man, you had the worst presidency ever.’ I said, ‘Read about Lincoln.'”
Bush said History is his favorite TV network, and the business purpose of his appearance before media buyers at Jazz at Lincoln Center was to highlight several brand extensions of the network via podcasts, speaking series and a three-day event, HistoryCon. The president’s remarks highlighted an event that also featured Sylvester Stallone, Robin Roberts and Paul Buccieri in his first upfront as head of A+E. (Last year, just three days before the company’s upfront, Nancy Dubuc left for the top post at Vice Media, leading her onetime mentor and predecessor in the corner office, Abby Raven, to pinch hit on short notice.)
In addition to touting the idea of reading (famously not the current president’s favorite pastime), Bush denounced “America first policies,” which he said “let our allies be ravaged by Hitler.”
This wasn’t the first time Bush has taken aim at Trump’s performance as chief executive, but represented one of his highest-profile platforms for the message, with the New York skyline glittering behind him at sunset and the audience rapt.
“I don’t miss being president,” Bush said. “But I do miss Air Force One.” The airplane was where Bush recalled getting reading in, as well as while exercising.
If there’s one thing everyone knows about Bush’s post-White House chapter, it’s his decision to take up a paint brush.
“I have become an artist, which is shocking to a lot of people in New York,” Bush quipped. “A lot of them were also shocked when my three books came out. They didn’t think I could read, much less write.”