A chill in the cathe­dral

Trump joins his pre­de­ces­sors.

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Fritze, David Jack­son and Wil­liam Cum­mings USA TO­DAY

WASH­ING­TON – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump stared straight ahead. For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton scanned the pro­gram. For­mer Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter checked his watch.

The at­mos­phere at the rare meet­ing of the pres­i­dent with his pre­de­ces­sors at the fu­neral of Ge­orge H.W. Bush on Wed­nes­day was chilly. Trump shook hands with for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and for­mer first lady Michelle Obama, did not en­gage with Bill or Hil­lary Clin­ton and promptly took his seat at the end of the row.

As Trump ar­rived, Hil­lary Clin­ton – his 2016 op­po­nent and the sub­ject of the pres­i­dent’s taunts – did not glance his way.

The fu­neral at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral brought to­gether the cur­rent and all for­mer liv­ing pres­i­dents. All but for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush sat with their spouses in a front row. Be­fore Trump’s ar­rival, they chat­ted am­i­ca­bly.

Bush, who sat with fam­ily mem­bers at his fa­ther’s fu­neral, broke the solem­nity, of­fer­ing gre­gar­i­ous hand­shakes to Trump and all of the for­mer pres­i­dents and their spouses. He handed what ap­peared to be a piece of candy to Michelle Obama, a tra­di­tion be­tween the two. The Oba­mas laughed in re­sponse. Bush gave the for­mer first lady a mint this year at the fu­neral of Sen. John McCain, a mo­ment Obama de­scribed warmly.

“He is my part­ner in crime at ev­ery ma­jor thing where all the for­m­ers gather,” Obama told NBC. “So we’re to­gether all the time, and I love him to death. He’s a won­der­ful man.”

For­mer pres­i­dents have come to­gether only oc­ca­sion­ally over the past sev­eral decades, typ­i­cally for a fu­neral or to cel­e­brate the open­ing of a pres­i­dent’s li­brary at the end of his term. His­to­ri­ans said the pres­i­dents club sym­bol­izes unity in times of divi­sion.

Dou­glas Brink­ley, a his­to­rian at Rice Univer­sity, said the tra­di­tion dates back to Thomas Jef­fer­son and John Adams, who rekin­dled a friend­ship through let­ters they made pub­lic after the bit­terly con­tested 1800 elec­tion drove them apart.

“Ge­orge H.W. Bush epit­o­mizes the pres­i­dents club and the idea that you try, once you leave of­fice, to be nice to the peo­ple who come after you,” Brink­ley said.

Trump has had an ac­ri­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship with the Bush fam­ily, crit­i­ciz­ing Ge­orge H.W. Bush and his sons. The Bush fam­ily in­vited Trump to at­tend the fu­neral, but he did not speak. Ge­orge W. Bush eu­lo­gized his fa­ther.

The fu­neral was the first time Hil­lary Clin­ton and Trump were to­gether since his in­au­gu­ra­tion last year after their an­tag­o­nis­tic pres­i­den­tial race. Trump con­tin­ues to call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server when she was sec­re­tary of state.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump de­rided his op­po­nent as “Crooked Hil­lary” and a “nasty woman.” Crowds at his po­lit­i­cal ral­lies be­fore this year’s midterm elec­tion chanted “lock her up” at the men­tion of her name.

Pres­i­dents have of­ten been at odds with each other. Dwight Eisen­hower and Harry Tru­man didn’t speak for years. His­to­ri­ans said no pre­vi­ous chief ex­ec­u­tive has spo­ken as pub­licly and as harshly about pre­de­ces­sors as Trump has. “Not even close,” said Mark Upde­grove, who has writ­ten books on Lyn­don John­son and the Bush fam­ily.

Trump “en­tered the White House on a trail of scorched earth,” he said.

JACK GRUBER/USA TO­DAY

United in this if noth­ing else, the Trumps, Oba­mas, Clin­tons and Carters gath­ered to honor Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

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