I was cool toward the Presidency of George H.W. Bush and I still am. Add to that my personal lacuna about role of ritual and ceremony, and I was left blind-sided by all the (seemingly disproportionate) fuss over George Herbert Walker Bush’s death.
Ross Douthat plausibly explained why there was so much admiration and grief, so I watched some of the news coverage of the funeral—the big one at the Washington National Cathedral—after its conclusion.
I and my wife both were struck by how the eulogies celebrated virtues so lacking in Donald Trump, who sat there enduring the eulogies with some combination of boredom and—we may hope, mayn’t we?—salutary self-reproach.
We were by no means the only ones to note that, my daily survey of punditry reveals.
Trump’s name was mentioned not once by the four eulogists at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday. But their words were an implicit rebuke of everything Trump is. They spoke of what made Bush a great leader, which are the very traits that, by their absence, make Trump so woefully inadequate.
Trump, for whom no cause is greater than self, must have struggled to sit through 90 minutes of something that was not all about him. Rather, it was all about what he is not.
Meacham, putting Bush’s leadership in the style of George Washington and both Roosevelts, recalled how he “spoke with those big, strong hands” (was he trolling Trump?) and stood against totalitarianism and blind partisanship. “And on his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand, and doors across America opened to those with disabilities,” Meacham said — in front of a president who would build a wall, who winks at dictators and who publicly mocked a journalist’s disability.
Bush’s life code, Meacham said, began with “tell the truth” and “don’t blame people.” The truth-challenged, finger-pointing president could only listen.
Dana Milbank. This is why the world needs wordsmiths.
[T]he Bushes have gone out of their way this week to appear gracious toward Trump, notwithstanding his repeated snubs of Jeb “Low Energy” Bush. Then again, all that well-bred graciousness might have been exactly the point, a brilliant act of Waspy revenge. For more than two hours, the visibly uncomfortable forty-fifth President had to listen to Bush extolled in terms that would never be applied to him. “Best instincts,” not “worst impulses.” “Kinder.” “Gentler.” “Courageous.” “Principled.” “Gentlemanly.”
Trump had to sit there knowing that every statement praising Bush’s decency and modesty and courage would be taken as an implicit rebuke of him …
Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, brought an acute understanding of Washington’s foibles, and a reputation for lancing humor, to the task of remembering his friend. “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic,” Simpson observed, to knowing laughs. Later in his talk, standing at a lectern placed just a few feet in front of Trump, Simpson quoted his mother in observing that “hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.” Trump, a man of seething hatreds, stared at him with arms folded. Meanwhile, Simpson observed of Bush, “He never hated anyone.”
Trump appeared grim-faced throughout much of the ordeal. He didn’t read along with the prayers or sing along with the hymns. He refused to shake hands with or acknowledge any of his predecessors or their wives, except Barack and Michelle Obama, a snub that was made all the more apparent when George W. Bush, upon entering the Cathedral a short time later, stopped to greet the Trumps, Obamas, Clintons, and Carters, before taking his seat in a front-row pew to bid farewell to his father.
It was the first time that Trump had been in the same room as the Obamas and the Clintons and the Bushes since his Inaugural Address, on January 20, 2017, when he had spoken of “American carnage.” At the time, Bush had reportedly told Hillary Clinton, Trump’s defeated 2016 opponent, “That was some weird shit.” Almost two years later, it seems even weirder. But here we are, at a state funeral, where the big relief is a two-hour news cycle in which the President can’t tweet.
As I say, we can hope that this penetrated his narcissistic, shriveled soul. There haven’t been any Tweetstorms since, have there?
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