Bush, speaking at the Bush Institute's Spirit of Liberty event at the Time Warner Center in NY, called for unity and denounced bigotry, and the increased divisiveness we see in the current political climate. "Argument turns too easily into animosity", Bush said.
Mr Bush said bigotry, white supremacy and falsehoods were coarsening the tone of the United States and threatening its democracy.
"We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty", Bush said during a 16-minute address at "The Spirit of Liberty" event.
"At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together", Bush said.
Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era American politics, warning that the rise of "nativism", isolationism and conspiracy theories have clouded the nation's true identity. "But we cannot wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the Agricultural Revolution or the Industrial Revolution. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization", he continued.
A Bush spokesman later said the former president was not explicitly criticizing President Donald Trump, whose name Bush never mentioned. "Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions".
Important speech by my friend, President George W. Bush today, reminding us of the values that have made America a beacon of hope for all. Bush, again not naming Trump directly, warned against minimizing the issue.
The obsession with Russia's influence on American politics and the divisions in it could be a lot more damaging to our democratic norms than any Facebook ads some Russians might purchase. "People of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American", he said.
Bush also blasted some of the emerging elements of the far right, which presented themselves most prominently at the August rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent, with a counterprotester getting killed by a white supremacist. "We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools", Bush said.
He also made mention of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, calling on the USA to "harden its own defences". "America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions". "According to intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning americans against each other", Bush said.
A spokesman for Bush told The Hill the speech was "long-planned" and not a critique of Trump.
Mr Bush said there was "fading confidence" in free markets and worldwide trade and noted the "return of isolationist sentiments" in the country.