A coalition representing nearly every former president, from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama, issued a collective call on Thursday to protect the foundations of American democracy and uphold comity in national politics.
The alliance of presidential centers and foundations for nearly a century-old American leaders, Democrats and Republicans, is a historic first. Never before has such a broad coalition of institutions inherited from previous administrations come together on a single issue.
The statement is largely innocuous in its prose and is careful not to include specific examples that might appear to refer to a current or former elected leader. But some of its wording, as well as its timing, appears to serve as a subtle rebuke to former President Donald J. Trump, who tried to overturn the last presidential election, continues to deny losing, and is now the Republican frontrunner for 2024. .even as he faces four criminal charges.
“Each of us has a role to play and responsibilities to shoulder,” the statement said. “Our elected officials must lead by example and govern effectively in ways that meet the expectations of the American people. This in turn will help to restore confidence in the public service. The rest of us need to engage in civil dialogue; respect democratic institutions and rights; maintain safe, secure and accessible elections; and contribute to local, state or national improvement.
The Eisenhower Foundation was the only organization in the line of presidents, from Mr. Hoover to Mr. Obama, not to sign the statement, and the organization did not detail its reasoning. No center, library or heritage-type organization with ties to Mr. Trump has signed the statement; the former president has no foundation or library.
The idea originated at the George W. Bush Presidential Center earlier this year, according to David J. Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. Center leaders drafted the original statement and asked others to sign it; a few centers have suggested small modifications.
“We just felt there was a growing need to step back from the daily headlines and, in the midst of all the attention, remind ourselves of who we are, what makes us a great nation and that we are rooted in an idea of freedom and democracy,” Mr. Kramer said in an interview.
“It’s not about an individual, or a candidate or a campaign,” Kramer added. “We just wanted to stay at a higher level, and that’s how we were able to get almost every center united behind us.”
But some of the language in the statement could easily be interpreted as warnings to Mr. Trump. The coalition says “civility and respect in political discourse” are “essential”, a contrast for a politician known for his humiliating nicknames and sometimes violent messages.
Other ideals expressed in the declaration, such as a sense of global responsibility, also seem more targeted at the Republican base, voters more energized by the message “America First” – a theme pushed by Mr. Trump and repeated by many of its rivals. for the Republican nomination.
“Americans have a vested interest in supporting democratic movements and respect for human rights around the world, because free societies elsewhere in the world contribute to our own security and prosperity here at home,” it read. in the press release. “But that interest is shaken when others see our own messy house. The world will not wait for us to solve our problems, so we must both continue to work for a more perfect union and help those abroad who seek American leadership.
Presidential historians note that the joint statement is unusual.
“You usually see former presidents attending events together, like, for example, after the death of former President George HW Bush,” said Meena Bose, presidential historian and executive dean of Hofstra University. “But for the centers to unite, it institutionalizes the importance of bipartisan engagement.” She added: “It gives both personal and institutional strength to the statement. »
Mr. Kramer said the idea has been circulating around the Bush Center for some time. However, when he joined the center in January, a momentum developed within the organization to spread a bipartisan, nonpartisan message reaffirming what sets American democracy apart and has helped it function for more than 245 years, he added.
Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to Mr. Obama and chief executive of the Obama Foundation, pointed to the caustic political discourse that dominates modern campaigns, saying a united front was essential.
“There is currently a climate toxicity that is incompatible with a strong democracy,” Ms Jarrett said in an interview. “Open and fair elections, a smooth and orderly transition of power, respect for the rule of law: these are the fundamental pillars of democracy. And so if you had asked me 10 years ago: would we really focus our efforts on ensuring that our democracy is strong? A lot of the activities we do are aimed at strengthening it, but we wouldn’t have denounced it as an issue under attack.”
Meredith Sleichter, executive director of the Eisenhower Foundation, said in a statement that the organization “respectfully declined to sign this statement.” This would be the first joint statement the Presidential Centers and Foundations would issue as a group, but we had no collective discussion about it, only an invitation to sign.”
The full list of signatories:
The Obama Presidential Center
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Clinton Presidential Center
George and Barbara Bush Foundation
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute
The Carter Center
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Richard Nixon Foundation
John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
Truman Library Institute
The Hoover Presidential Foundation