There was no mistaking the odd man out.
The Washington funeral service for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush served as a rare reunion of the remaining members of the presidents club, but the front-row banter among Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses came to an end when President Donald Trump and wife Melania arrived.
The Wednesday encounter was a real-time illustration of the uneasy ties between the current occupant of the White House and his predecessors, suggesting Trump as a member-in-name-only of the Oval Office fraternity. While the funeral ceremony itself was a warm celebration of the late president, the relationships between the surviving presidents are considerably cooler.
Trump gave the two Obamas a handshake before taking his seat in Washington’s National Cathedral without greeting the others. Hillary Clinton nodded at Melania Trump but then stared straight ahead. The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the current president and his immediate predecessor since Inauguration Day 2017. Trump has not spoken to Democrats Clinton or Obama since that day.
The ceremony’s tributes at times stood as an unspoken counterpoint to Trump’s leadership, as historian Jon Meacham eulogized Bush by recounting his life’s credo: “Tell the truth, don’t blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course.” George W. Bush added of his father: “He could tease and needle, but not out of malice.”
By virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye.
Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said. “Bill Clinton would reach out to Richard Nixon for advice on Russia,” he said. “Harry Truman leaned heavily on Herbert Hoover. It’s endless.”
To be sure, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that “FDR would never talk to Herbert Hoover.”
Busy with a mix of personal pursuits, charitable endeavours — and, in some cases, paid speaking gigs — the former leaders don’t mingle very often, making a funeral in their group a big occasion. Bonded by the presidency, they tend to exercise caution in their comments about each other. Still, all the living former presidents have aimed barbs — directly or indirectly — at Trump.
In a speech in September, Obama slammed the “crazy stuff” coming out of the White House without directly naming Trump. Last year, the younger Bush made a speech that confronted many of the themes of Trump’s presidency without mentioning him by name, cautioning that “bigotry seems emboldened” and the nation’s politics “seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
Over the summer, Carter told The Washington Post that Trump’s presidency was a “disaster.” And Clinton — stung by Trump’s defeat of wife Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race — told a weekly newspaper in New York state after her stunning loss that Trump “doesn’t know much.”
Even the late Bush’s feelings about Trump were harsh at times. In Mark K. Updegrove’s book “The Last Republicans,” published last year, the elder Bush called Trump a “blowhard.”
The late Bush said he voted for Clinton in 2016 while George W. Bush said he voted for “none of the above.”
There have been other moments when the ex-presidents offered more sympathetic sentiments for Trump. After Trump’s surprise victory, Obama stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and said he was “rooting” for the next president. Carter told The New York Times in 2017 the media had been harder on Trump than other presidents. Clinton said in June that America should be rooting for Trump to succeed in his North Korea talks.
While he has struggled to set the right tone in past moments of national grief, Trump has gone out of his way to address Bush’s passing with consideration, issuing kind statements and ensuring that Bush family members have whatever they need for the funeral. On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump welcomed Laura Bush and other family members for a tour of the White House Christmas decorations. And Trump and the first lady visited with members of the Bush family at Blair House.
Like the semi-mythical Christmas truce between the British and the Germans on the front lines during World War I, Wednesday’s state funeral for former president George H.W. Bush showed two Washingtons and two Republican parties — in one sense, two Americas — taking a momentary step back from the bonfire that is now our national politics. The day, unlike almost anything involving President Trump, was subdued and respectful.
For that, we can thank the late former president Bush, no fan of Trump. By insisting on his predecessor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of the president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.
Recall that Trump skipped former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral earlier this year to “avoid disruptions due to added security” (read: to avoid a scene) and “out of respect” for the Bushes, with first lady Melania Trump attending solo.
A few months later, Trump was relegated to golfing and tweeting, miles away, after being asked to stay away from Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) funeral (read: given the finger), during which Trump was rebuffed by Meghan McCain, who affirmed, “America was always great,” turning the president’s shallow campaign slogan on its head while her father was eulogized by former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
You could hardly have blamed the Bush family, then, if they had asked Trump to keep his distance from the elder Bush’s memorial, considering Trump’s attacks on the younger former president Bush’s record, Trump’s swipes at former governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and the reality that Trump’s gimcrack persona is an affront to Bush père’s evident character. Bush personified noblesse oblige; Trump is an avatar of the lowest common denominator. And Trump might have half-expected, if not outright welcomed, such a rejection, as it would have given him an opening to abrasively tweet about the Bush legacy, employing Trump’s patented Twitter formula: insulting nickname, distracting punctuation, malapropism, logical fallacy, self-own, hit send.
But in his final wishes, the late former president put the dignity of the office and, by extension, the nation’s dignity, above all, knowing that the passing of a president is a rare occasion and, even in passing, any chance to demonstrate honor and decorum would provide a welcome contrast to this divided political moment. As Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley told People magazine, Bush “does not want to stiff a sitting president.” Wouldn’t be prudent.
Bush proved right. Lacking a snub from which to pivot, Trump did the only thing he could do as a member of the now-five-member living president’s club: He issued an appropriate official statementon Bush’s passing, largely steered clear of the week’s Bush remembrances and showed up for the funeral at which he had no speaking role. Even his scowling abstention from the Apostles’ Creed — which all the other presidents recited — couldn’t detract from a solemn ceremony.
It was a brief political win-win. Bush, the last president to serve in combat, a former congressman, ambassador, CIA director and vice president, could be laid to rest with decorum, and Trump — Cadet Bone Spurs, decorated veteran of Studio 54 — was mostly spared another unflattering comparison to an American hero.
But not completely spared. Trump saw himself eclipsed by the memory of a superior man and his anti-statesmanship outshined by the disdained values of a presently defunct GOP, whose passing we collectively view with increasing regret.
A president who nurtures only his ego saw people from both parties turn out to honor a president who understood the line between partisanship and pragmatism. Trump, a man who exists in a purely transactional bubble, had to sit and listen to stories of friendships that spanned decades, a loving marriage that began before Trump was born, Bush’s commitment to family and his total comfort with the person he was. As to this contrast, the record doesn’t whisper; it screams.
No one in attendance at Washington National Cathedral or watching on TV could have mistaken the difference between Trump’s caustic brand of nationalism and Bush’s patriotism: He flew more than 50 combat missions during World War II. He served when called, over and over. He was a man of deeds, not boasts.
His example wasn’t meant for Trump alone. As he was laid to rest, Bush reminded us that when the studio audience tires of the reality show, a better, kinder, more American style of leadership might one day return. That true patriotism, honor and devotion to family are models of a life well lived, in and after politics. George H.W. Bush’s lifetime of service was capped by one last selfless act, a final gift to the country he served so well. He knew exactly what he was doing by opting not to exclude Trump from his funeral; he controlled the uncontrollable.
MORBNOTE ; The above is a joining of two ‘ reports ‘ on George H.W. Bush’s funeral … One outlet being the Washington Post ( American ) and the other CTV ( Canadian ) … Isn’t too tricky to figure out what descriptions and quotes came from which one ! …
I had a look at a bit of the fanfare of the proceedings and , aside from the typical political adversarial atmosphere that all politicians exist in , saw nothing to corroborate the Washington Post ‘ opinion ‘ … Not to mention that Jackhole Stephan Colbert who thinks he’s funny and informative !!! …
Pity they can’t heed the advice from the man who once said ‘ Read my lips ‘ and just take the time out , set aside that adversarial attitude , in honour of the ceremony of a passing President …
I know !!! … The ‘ Read my lips ‘ quote wasn’t one of his finer moments ! … Couldn’t resist it tho …
Source: Trump could’ve ruined Bush’s funeral. Bush didn’t let him. – The Washington Post