Former President George W. Bush on Tuesday cautioned against allowing anger to dictate policy in the wake of a heated presidential race — especially when it comes to trade, an issue in the crosshairs of President-elect Donald Trump.
“I understand anger, and some people might have been angry when I was president, but anger shouldn’t drive policy,” Bush said during a speech in Dallas. “What should drive policy is what’s best for the people who are angry and how does it benefit people in our country and people in our neighborhood.”
Bush, who did not support Trump, opened his remarks by saying he does not “think it’s helpful for a former president to criticize successors.” But he went on to carefully push back on a central argument throughout Trump’s campaign — that trade deals have been bad for the U.S. economy, sending jobs overseas and shrinking wages.
Any president, Bush said, should “recognize that trade encourages growth and fair trade is important for the workers of our respective countries.”
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As an example, Bush cited the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has vowed to dismantle. Bush said NAFTA in Texas has “transformed” the state’s border with Mexico, creating a “thriving middle class on both sides of the Rio Grande River.”
“Someone said NAFTA is a four-letter word,” Bush said with a chuckle. “No, it’s a five-letter word.”
Bush’s comments, made at the George W. Bush Presidential Center and live-streamed, were his first major public remarks since Trump’s upset victory a week ago over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Bush, who never endorsed Trump, did not vote for his party’s nominee either, leaving the line blank on his ballot, according to a spokesman.
The 43rd president began his speech by making clear he has no intention to make Trump’s job any more difficult than it already is.
“I’m pretty much out of the political world,” Bush said. “I’m interested in politics, but I don’t think it’s helpful for a former president to criticize successors. It’s a hard job to begin with, and I don’t think it helps to make it any harder.”
Bush went on to offer a brief reflection on the outcome last week, saying economic frustrations were “part of what was taking place during this recent election.”
“People were sick and tired of the status quo, and they are insisting that leadership analyze what’s right and what’s wrong and do something about it,” Bush said.