Bush and Trump: A con­trast im­pos­si­ble to miss

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Susan Page Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump didn’t speak at the me­mo­rial ser­vice for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush on Wed­nes­day, and the eu­lo­gists who did speak ad­dressed the con­gre­ga­tion with the un­der­stand­ing that they wouldn’t chal­lenge the oc­cu­pant of the Oval Office, seated in the front pew.

Even so, the con­trast and the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween the two were im­pos­si­ble to miss in­side Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral, the sub­text as one pres­i­dent was laid to rest and an­other headed into in­creas­ingly tur­bu­lent le­gal and po­lit­i­cal wa­ters.

In­ten­tion­ally or not, the words of praise for Bush res­onated through the lens of the cur­rent pres­i­dent and the na­tion’s bro­ken pol­i­tics. Trump rev­els in provoca­tive tweets, dis­parag­ing nick­names and a will­ing­ness to shat­ter po­lit­i­cal norms. Bush was re­mem­bered for per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics of

mod­esty, cour­tesy and re­straint.

His­to­rian Jon Meacham, au­thor of the defini­tive Bush bi­og­ra­phy, “Des­tiny and Power,” praised Bush’s “life code” in his eu­logy. He “called on us to choose right over the con­ve­nient, hope over fear, not our worst im­pulses but our best in­stincts.”

Ge­orge W. Bush, the na­tion’s 43rd pres­i­dent, said his fa­ther “showed me what it means to be a pres­i­dent that leads with in­tegrity.”

The 41st pres­i­dent and the 45th share some sim­i­lar­i­ties: both Repub­li­cans, both born on the East Coast, both sons of priv­i­lege – one to a fam­ily with old money, one to a fam­ily with new. In al­most ev­ery other way imag­in­able, they are a study in con­trasts, from per­sonal de­meanor to global out­look.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who gen­er­ally held his tongue af­ter he left the White House, was alarmed by Trump’s po­lit­i­cal rise. “A blowhard,” he told his­to­rian Mark Upde­grove in May 2016. That Novem­ber, for the first time, he cast his bal­lot not for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee but for the Demo­cratic ri- val, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Still, it was Bush who de­cided Trump should be in­vited to his funeral, a sign of his re­spect for the office. Ex­clud­ing Trump would have been a jar­ring break with prece­dent and the sort of pub­lic dis­re­spect Bush avoided.

Trump also fol­lowed the pro­to­col of pres­i­dents by declar­ing Wed­nes­day a na­tional day of mourn­ing, send­ing Air Force One to carry Bush’s fam­ily and his body from Texas to Wash­ing­ton and back and invit­ing the Bush fam­ily to stay in Blair House, the guest house across from the White House.

The fact that Trump didn’t speak was at odds with re­cent prac­tice. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush spoke at Ron­ald Rea­gan’s funeral. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton spoke at Richard Nixon’s. “May the day of judg­ing Pres­i­dent Nixon on any­thing less than his en­tire life and ca­reer come to a close,” Clin­ton said of the pres­i­dent forced from office.

This time, even the body lan­guage among the ex­clu­sive club of pres­i­dents was de­cid­edly chilly. When Trump ar­rived, he shook hands with the Oba­mas, but he didn’t ac­knowl­edge Bill or Hil­lary Clin­ton or Jimmy Carter. Hil­lary Clin­ton didn’t look his way, either.

Trump did less to at­tack Ge­orge H.W. Bush with his rhetoric, but in fun­da­men­tal ways, he has dis­rupted the le­gacy the el­der Bush built. Trump has trans­formed the Repub­li­can Party to reflect his com­bat­ive pop­ulism.

Most of all, Trump has frayed the global al­liances and in­sti­tu­tions that Bush and other Cold War pres­i­dents la­bored to forge.

Seated in the pews at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral were past and present pres­i­dents, prime min­is­ters, kings and queens, a reflec­tion of the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships Bush cul­ti­vated.

Trump’s name was never men­tioned, nor his trou­bles.

All that went un­said.

“The most de­cent and hon­or­able per­son I ever met,” for­mer Wyoming Sen. Alan Simp­son said in his eu­logy. He added to laugh­ter, “Those who travel the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traffic.”


From left, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, first lady Me­la­nia Trump, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clin­ton, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Jimmy Carter and Ros­alynn Carter at­tend Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s funeral.

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