Wrin­kled flag on cas­ket was shame­ful

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION - Chris Freind Colum­nist

Dis­grace­ful. Shame­ful. In­ex­cus­able. And that’s just for starters. Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush – 41st Pres­i­dent of the United States, mem­ber of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, World War II Navy pi­lot, and a fam­ily man of un­ques­tioned de­cency – was just shown the ul­ti­mate dis­re­spect by hav­ing his cas­ket draped in an ap­pallingly wrin­kled Amer­i­can flag.

Don’t think it’s true? Look again.

Many missed the un­seemly creases in the first photo, un­doubt­edly dis­tracted by Pres­i­dent Bush’s ser­vice dog ly­ing in front of his cas­ket. But as Pres­i­dent Bush lay in state in­side the Capi­tol, the wrin­kles were clearly still there – ev­i­dence that ei­ther no one no­ticed, or, more alarm­ing, cared enough to fix it.

How is this pos­si­ble? When did Amer­i­cans stop car­ing about such things? When did at­ten­tion to de­tail be­come rel­e­gated to the trash can? When did we be­come so self-ab­sorbed that we lack any shame for that which is down­right shame­ful?

They say that ev­ery gen­er­a­tion looks at the past through rose­c­ol­ored glasses, con­vinced that “things used to be bet­ter.” That’s fre­quently in­ac­cu­rate.

But when com­par­ing the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion – with their can-do work ethic, per­se­ver­ance, and solve-rather-than-com­plain at­ti­tude – to to­day’s Amer­ica, where many are of­fended by ev­ery­thing, en­ti­tled to even more, and take van­ity to un­prece­dented heights, it ain’t even close.

Pres­i­dent Bush de­served more. A lot more. Shame on us for not de­liv­er­ing.

There are those who will shrug their shoul­ders and say, “Yeah. You’re right. They should have done it bet­ter. But (ex­ple­tive) hap­pens. And we have big­ger prob­lems.” Wrong an­swer. In fact, that at­ti­tude is one of the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons for the de­cline of Amer­ica’s tra­di­tional value sys­tem. At its core, it is a men­tal­ity built on ex­cuses and “buts:” “Yes, we should have done it bet­ter, but …” Or “Mis­takes were made, but …” And the new fa­vorite: “I’m sorry, but …”

Ev­ery­thing these days is “con­di­tional,” which is a fancy way of say­ing that pass­ing the buck is the new norm. True re­morse is scant, and it has be­come chic to not hold peo­ple ac­count­able for their ac­tions. After all, it’s much eas­ier to blame every­one and ev­ery­thing else.

Do poorly in school? It’s the teacher’s fault. Sub­par in a game? Blame the refs. Late for work? Hey, six-hour days are bru­tal. A celebrity gen­uinely of­fends? It’s not “I’m sorry,” but a con­di­tional, pub­li­cist-worded non-apol­ogy. The “sorry if some­one was of­fended” line now rou­tinely sup­plants an ac­tual apol­ogy.

We’d be a lot bet­ter off if our love af­fair with the mir­ror wasn’t for van­ity, but in­stead self-re­flec­tion as to who we are, and the type of peo­ple we aspire to be.

When we con­tinue to give free passes for er­rors of both com­mis­sion and omis­sion, the re­sult is wide­spread medi­ocrity, and a “nor­malcy bias” for con­stant mis­takes. From fast food to health in­sur­ers to cable TV com­pa­nies, mis­takes are so com­mon­place that they’ve be­come the new norm – forc­ing cus­tomers to pick up the slack.

There is sim­ply no ex­cuse for a pres­i­dent to be draped in a wrin­kled flag. He is sur­rounded by fam­ily, staff, Se­cret Ser­vice, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and pro­to­col ex­perts. Is it re­ally pos­si­ble that not one per­son no­ticed the flag look­ing as though it had been rolled into a ball? And that no one ei­ther made sure it got ironed, or a pressed flag be found? The lack of sit­u­a­tion­alaware­ness, not to men­tion com­mon sense, is baf­fling.

Ge­orge Bush, as a lieu­tenant, was re­quired to have a pressed uni­form. His bunk was un­doubt­edly man­dated to be wrin­kle­free. As busi­ness­man, con­gress­man, CIA di­rec­tor, and pres­i­dent, Mr. Bush’s at­tire was ex­pected to be, and al­ways was, crisp and pre­sentable – just the way it should be.

In­com­pe­tence oc­curs at the very high­est lev­els, and it’s only get­ting worse. It’s also clear that in to­day’s Amer­ica, peo­ple value Uber, what type of latte they’ll or­der, and how many shows they can watch si­mul­ta­ne­ously over the things that truly mat­ter.

Too bad they don’t re­al­ize that the very rea­son they have those choices is be­cause the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion fought with un­com­mon valor against the most dire threat to free­dom the world had ever known.

Flag or no flag, that will be a legacy that will never be wrin­kled.

Pres­i­dent Bush, you de­served more, and you have our grat­i­tude.

Re­qui­escat in pace.

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