Wash­ing­ton mourns Ge­orge HW Bush as Trump gives cold shoul­der to Clin­tons

The Guardian Australia - - World News - David Smith in Wash­ing­ton and agen­cies

It was a cold day in Wash­ing­ton. When Don­ald Trump walked in, the tem­per­a­ture plum­meted a good deal lower.

In the front pew of the Na­tional Cathe­dral at Wed­nes­day’s state funeral of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge HW Bush, Bill Clin­ton had been chat­ting an­i­mat­edly with Barack and Michelle Obama. Hil­lary Clin­ton had been in con­ver­sa­tion with Jimmy Carter.

Then came the Trumps. First Lady Me­la­nia stood and cor­dially shook hands with the Oba­mas and Bill Clin­ton, and a lit­tle wave to Hil­lary, as her hus­band took off his coat. Trump plopped down into the end seat be­fore shak­ing hands with Barack Obama, who nod­ded for­mally, and Michelle, who forced a smile and “Good morn­ing”. He did not greet Bill Clin­ton or his wife, Hil­lary, who was Trump’s ri­val in the ran­corous 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

It was all in the body lan­guage. The Oba­mas and Clin­tons now sat star­ing ahead, vis­i­bly tense, their ear­lier ban­ter quite gone. Barack Obama looked strangely self-con­scious; Michelle wore a per­ma­nent gri­mace, Bill and Hil­lary had stiff­ened. Trump had dead­ened the at­mos­phere like a stand­ing chill.

The con­trast was bru­tal a few min­utes later when the Oba­mas greeted Ge­orge W Bush with warm smiles. Bush handed Michelle a piece of candy, just as he did at Sen­a­tor John McCain’s funeral ear­lier this year. Bush would later break down in grief at the end of a eu­logy that was in turns poignant and funny.

It was a rare gath­er­ing of five pres­i­dents in­clud­ing Trump, Bush and Clin­ton. It was also the first time that Trump had come face to face with the Oba­mas and Clin­tons since his in­au­gu­ra­tion and dystopian first pres­i­den­tial speech, in Jan­uary, 2017. Over the past two years their mu­tual an­tipa­thy has deep­ened. On Wed­nes­day, Trump was the odd man out as Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats came to­gether in, rare these days, bi­par­ti­san comity.

Bush, the 41st pres­i­dent and last pres­i­dent from the sec­ond world war era, died last week at home in Texas. At 94, he was the long­est-lived pres­i­dent in US his­tory.

Whereas McCain’s funeral had de­liv­ered blunt re­bukes to the ab­sent Trump – who was point­edly not in­vited – in all but name, Bush’s was a case of less is more. The homages to a com­plex, pa­tri­cian fig­ure who called for a “kinder, gen­tler” na­tion threw Trump, the 45th pres­i­dent, into sharp re­lief.

In an el­e­gant eu­logy, his­to­rian Jon Meacham, who wrote a de­fin­i­tive bi­og­ra­phy of Bush, de­scribed him as “Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man” who “stood in the breach in Wash­ing­ton against un­think­ing par­ti­san­ship.” He added: “An im­per­fect man, he left us a more per­fect union.”

Meacham drew a com­par­i­son with Abra­ham Lincoln, sug­gest­ing that both pres­i­dents “called on us to choose the right over the con­ve­nient, to hope rather than to fear and to heed not our worst im­pulses but our best in­stinct”.

There was also hu­mour. Meacham re­called that Bush, cam­paign­ing in a crowd in a de­part­ment store, once shook hands with a man­nequin. In­stead of flush­ing in em­bar­rass­ment, he sim­ply quipped: “Never know. Gotta ask.”

Bush was the first pres­i­dent since John Adams to see his son also reach the White House, in the early 19th Cen­tury. Ge­orge W Bush quipped: “The idea is to die young as late as pos­si­ble.”

As Trump sat with arms folded, the 43rd pres­i­dent re­called: “Last Fri­day, when I was told he had min­utes to live, I called him. The guy who an­swered the phone said, ‘I think he can hear you but he hasn’t said any­thing for most of the day’. I said, ‘Dad, I love you and you’ve been a won­der­ful fa­ther’. And the last words he would ever say on Earth were, ‘I love you, too’.”

Ge­orge W Bush spoke fondly of his fa­ther’s bad danc­ing and dis­like of veg­eta­bles, “es­pe­cially broc­coli”.

At the end, he choked up on the words, “The best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have”, and low­ered his head, then con­tin­ued: “And in our grief, let us smile know­ing that dad is hug­ging Robin and hold­ing mom’s hand again,” – a ref­er­ence to Ge­orge HW Bush’s three-year-old daugh­ter Robin, who died from leukemia in 1953, and his wife Bar­bara, who died ear­lier this year.

It was a re­veal­ing, very hu­man mo­ment from a man whose pres­i­dency brought about the Iraq war. Once widely re­viled, Bush has gained pub­lic sym­pa­thy in a new role as a griev­ing son, though the cost of the war re­ver­ber­ates to this day.

The state funeral’s 3,000 in­vited guests in­cluded Prince Charles and lead­ers of Ger­many, Jor­dan, Aus­tralia and Poland, along with a host of for­mer world lead­ers, such as for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter John Ma­jor, who was in of­fice dur­ing Bush’s sin­gle 1989-1993 term.

Bush’s re­mains later ar­rived at a Hous­ton church, where he was to lie in re­pose overnight. About 1,200 mourn­ers are ex­pected for a ser­vice at St Mar­tin’s Epis­co­pal church on Thurs­day morn­ing. Eu­lo­gies were to be de­liv­ered by James Baker, Bush’s for­mer sec­re­tary of state and long­time con­fi­dant, and Bush’s grand­son Ge­orge P Bush, the Texas land com­mis­sioner.

The cas­ket will later travel on a train pulled by a spe­cial lo­co­mo­tive, No 4141, from sub­ur­ban Hous­ton to Col­lege Sta­tion, home of Texas A&M Univer­sity’s Bush pres­i­den­tial li­brary. The for­mer pres­i­dent will be laid to rest along­side his wife, Bar­bara, and their daugh­ter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at age three.

Bush, who had been Ron­ald Rea­gan’s vice pres­i­dent, steered the US through the end of the cold war. But while his for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments were pro­found, he fal­tered domes-

tically, no­tably with econ­omy and com­bat­ing Aids, and lost the 1992 elec­tion to Clin­ton.

Wed­nes­day marked the first time since Lyn­don John­son’s death in 1973 that a sit­ting pres­i­dent was not asked to eu­lo­gise a late pres­i­dent.

Pho­to­graph: Man­del Ngan/AFP/Getty Im­ages

For­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush de­liv­ers his eu­logy dur­ing a funeral ser­vice at the Na­tionalCathe­dral in Wash­ing­ton DC on Wed­nes­day.

Pho­to­graph: Kevin La­mar­que/ Reuters

Don­ald Trump sits with first lady Me­la­niaTrump, for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama,for­mer first lady Michelle Obama, for­merPres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and for­mer first ladyHil­lary Clin­ton, for­mer Pres­i­dent JimmyCarter and first lady Ros­alynn Carter in thefront row at the state funeral for for­merPres­i­dent Ge­orge HW Bush at the Na­tionalCathe­dral.

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