Saturday, 19 Jan 2019

Bush funeral: Trump sits with the other presidents, but remains alone

From the moment he crossed the transept of Washington's rising cathedral, tore his coat and took his place in the tribune, President Trump was an outsider.

When the others sang an opening hymn, her mouth did not move. When others read the symbol of the apostles, he stood stoically. And when a eulogy after the other witnessed to George HW's integrity and character, his honesty, his bravery and his compassion, Trump sat down and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed on his chest.

Wednesday's national funeral was carefully orchestrated to include only one man and his milestones: Bush the father, the friend, the war hero and the official for life. But inevitably, Trump was also discussed because it was impossible to pay tribute to the 41st president without establishing implicit contrasts with the 45th.

"His code of life was:" Tell the truth. Do not blame people. To be strong. Do your best. Make an effort. Forgive. Stay on course, "said Bush biographer Jon Meacham in his eulogy. "And it was, and is, the most American creed."

The mourners did not utter Trump's burning rebuke, which the country witnessed in September on the occasion of the funeral of former Senator John McCain. But even though they were designed to honor Bush's legacy, their words served to underscore the singular nature of the Trump presidency.

Trump was in the company of all his predecessors alive for the first time on Wednesday, and the meeting was clearly uncomfortable. At 10:49 am, when Trump and his wife Melania entered the cathedral for the first time, a cold silence fell on the benches filled with American dignitaries and foreign leaders, past and present. Trump handed his black coat to a military assistant and took a seat in the driveway next to Melania. Three former presidents and the first ladies were sitting beside him.

First, President Trump has been declared illegitimate (Barack Obama); so the first lady he called a spendthrift taxpayer dollars (Michelle Obama); then, the president called the worst abuser of women (Bill Clinton); the first lady and secretary of state, he said, should be in prison (Hillary Clinton); and then the president he said was the second worst behind Obama (Jimmy Carter) and his wife, Rosalynn.

The Trumps and Obamas greet each other abruptly, but only Melania Trump reaches out to shake Bill Clinton's hand. Hillary Clinton did not recognize the trump cards, keeping her eyes straight in front of her as if she were determined not to look into the eyes of the man who continues, two years after the 2016 election, to inspire the words "Block it!" at its gatherings.

From left to right, President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, ex-First Lady Michelle Obama, ex-President Bill Clinton, the former -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and ex-First Lady Rosalynn Carter, listen to former President George W. Bush speaks to the United States. Former President George HW Bush State Funeral at Washington National Cathedral on December 5, 2018. (Alex Brandon / AP)

The coldness of Trumps' interactions with his predecessors was all the more evident as former President George W. Bush entered the cathedral a few minutes later. Bush shook hands cheerfully with each of the other presidents and first ladies. He slid what looked like a candy to a smiling Michelle Obama – a sweet reminder of McCain's funeral, when Bush's video giving out candy to Obama became viral on social media.

As a military guard of honor carried Bush's flag-covered coffin in front of the altar, the Trumps joined the Obamas and Clintons to hold their right hand on their hearts.

The members of the cabinet and Trump's assistants seemed to blend easily into the audience. Vice President Pence and his wife, Karen, went astray to exchange jokes with the Clinton and Obama. Kellyanne Conway, White House Councilor, and Stephen Miller, Policy Director, walked around the nave of the cathedral. Just behind the presidents and vice-presidents, Ivanka Trump was sitting next to Chelsea Clinton, removing from the public eye any hostility that might exist between them.

It was President Trump who seemed the most misplaced. For about two hours he was silent, a rare event in which the president was not the center of attention, but simply an observer.

Since he learned of Bush's death last Friday, Trump has been trying to be magnanimous – to act, as he often brags about doing, "presidential". Trump opened the doors of Blair House at the Bush home. He sent Air Force One to transport the body of the late president and members of the Bush family to and from Houston. All the while, he has refrained – at least until now – from publicly reacting to Bush's almost week-long celebration of his life and its contrasts with Trump's.

Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who came close to Bush during his research on the life of the former president for the 2015 biography, "Destiny and Power," was the first to be buried at the funeral on Wednesday. Meacham explained what Bush meant by his famous volunteering phrase "thousand points of light," which Trump has been mocking from last summer as an ineffective and confusing slogan.

"The best angels of our nature" by Abraham Lincoln and George HW Bush's "thousand points of light" are companion verses of the American national anthem, because Lincoln and Bush have each asked us to choose the right to the detriment of the right, to hope rather than fear and ignore our worst impulses, but our best instincts. Said Meacham.

The next eulogy, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, praised Bush's three achievements: the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans with Disabilities Act. and the Clean Air Act.

"There is a word for that. This is called "leadership," said Mulroney. "Let me tell you that when George Bush was President of the United States of America, all the world's leaders knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, an authentic, distinguished ruler. resolute and courageous. "

The hearing did not lose sight of Trump's calling NAFTA one of the worst trade deals of all time; "is mocked by the physical disability of a journalist; and canceled many environmental regulations.

Trump sat for much of Mulroney's speech, crossing his arms over his chest or holding his folded hands between his knees, sometimes leaning forward in his seat.

Trump's body language was relaxed when former Senator Alan Simpson made a lighter and more humorous memory of his long-time friend. Trump laughs as Simpson tells stories of service in Washington with Bush; At one point, Simpson sang the most famous replica of the play "Evita": "Do not cry for me, Argentina!

But Simpson has also conveyed a more serious lesson about Bush's humility and kindness. "Those who follow the path of humility in Washington, DC are not bothered by the heavy traffic," he said, adding that "hatred corrodes the container in which it is transported."

While he was assuming the presidency, Bush summoned all Americans to create a "gentler" and "sweeter" nation – a message that Trump, then Manhattan real estate developer and tabloid celebrity, had found absent.

"I love George Bush a lot, I support him and I will always do it," Trump said in a statement. 1990 interview with Playboy. "But I do not agree with him when he talks about a kinder, gentler America. I think that if this country becomes gentler or softer, it will literally cease to exist. "

At Wednesday's funeral, the most moving eulogy was delivered by Bush's eldest son, George W., who paid tribute to his father's character.

"He showed me what it means to be a president who sits with integrity, who drives with courage and acts with love in the hearts of the citizens of our country," Bush said.

Trump applauded Bush's speech, and Reverend Russell Jones Levenson, Jr., who had been Bush's pastor at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, took the floor to make a final eulogy. His was such a direct reference to the Trump era.

"Some said it was the end of an era," Levenson said. "But it's not obligatory. It may be an invitation to fill the void left. "

After the choir sang and the bells rang, after Bush's coffin was transported to the central aisle and loaded into a hearse, the Trumps quickly left the cathedral through a side exit. The president was brought back to the White House. He returned to the isolation and comfort of the oval office.


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