Presidential centres representing 13 former US presidents have issued a rare joint statement urging Americans and elected officials to protect the nation’s democratic foundations and bedrock American principles, including a diversity of beliefs and respect for the rule of law.
It marks the first time that a presidential coalition of nearly all 13 presidents dating back to Herbert Hoover has issued a public declaration of this kind – a historic first that notably excludes any involvement from the most recent former president, Donald Trump.
The relatively brief statement, sweeping in its scope, underscores “the importance of compassion, tolerance, pluralism, and respect for others” and the “essential” requirements for “civility and respect” during an election year or otherwise.
It also argues that Americans have a strong interest supporting democratic movements more broadly, because “free societies elsewhere contribute to our own security and prosperity here at home.”
“But that interest,” the statement says, “is undermined when others see our own house in disarray.”
While the statement does not include any specific examples that could be seen as a condemnation of any current or former leader or campaign, its timing and careful wording appears to serve as a not-so-thinly veiled rebuke of Mr Trump as he faces criminal prosecution for his attempts to overturn an election he continues to falsely insist that he won.
The statement also appears directed towards supporters of his isolationist “America First” agenda and antidemocratic efforts across the country fuelled by his false narrative and political vengeance.
“The world will not wait for us to address our problems, so we must both continue to strive toward a more perfect union and help those abroad looking for US leadership,” the statement reads.
“Each of us has a role to play and responsibilities to uphold,” it continues. “Our elected officials must lead by example and govern effectively in ways that deliver for the American people. This, in turn, will help to restore trust in public service. The rest of us must engage in civil dialogue; respect democratic institutions and rights; uphold safe, secure, and accessible elections; and contribute to local, state, or national improvement.”
The statement, introduced by the executive director of the George W Bush Institute, is supported by other foundations and presidential centres for former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B Johnson, John F Kennedy, Harry S Truman, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. The Eisenhower Foundation declined to sign the statement, stating that it was not involved with discussion about it and was only invited to sign.
The Carter Center, which has worked for decades to ensure the integrity of elections abroad, turned its attention towards the US for the first time in 2020, and again in 2022, when the group monitored midterm elections following threats to democratic institutions in 2020’s chaotic aftermath.
“Democracy is not guaranteed. As President Carter has said, we must demand that our leaders and candidates uphold the ideals of freedom and adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander said in a statement on 7 September. “And we must all do our part as citizens to renew our commitment to democracy, civility, and peaceful change.”
Melissa Giller, chief marketing officer at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute, told the Associated Press that the group was approached to join the statement following the launch of its Center on Public Civility in Washington DC. She said the statement represents “everything our center will stand for.”
“We need to help put an end to the serious discord and division in our society,” she said. “America is experiencing a decline in trust, social cohesion, and personal interaction.”