Why was Trump uncomfortable at HW’s funeral?

Donald Trump looked uncomfortable at the funeral of George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington on Wednesday.

His arms were frequently crossed in a defensive and defiant posture as people reminisced about a man of integrity and decency — a man who represented the establishment against which Trump has railed his whole life in a quest for acceptance.

{mosads}The president’s face was stern, his anger seemingly barely bridled beneath the surface, seemingly ready to burst out in an angry tweet about the Bush family — as he has done in the past.

During times in the service when the congregation of mourners spoke aloud in unison, Trump often stood sphinx-like, not participating in the ritual of mourning in a religious setting. 

Perhaps Trump was uncomfortable at the funeral because he was sitting in the same row as his predecessors (and Hillary Clinton), whom he has routinely attacked.

Funerals have a way of reframing our reality — of forcing us to come face-to-face with our own mortality. Did Bush’s funeral cause any introspection by Trump? In the most stressful job in the world, what was going through Trump’s mind as Bush was eulogized by family and friends?

It is a significant reflection on Bush’s heart and vision of America that he wanted the president — even President Trump — at his funeral. Despite having called Trump a “blowhard” and “an ass” — despite having voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — Bush knew it was important for our corporate public life as Americans for the current president to attend the funeral of a former president. He realized it was about the office of the presidency, not about the president. And maybe there was a secret hope in Bush’s mind that Trump might be positively influenced by attendance at such a memorial service.

As the distinguished speakers praised Bush, Trump couldn’t have helped but take offense at some of the comments that he might interpret as barbed contrasts between himself and Bush.

George H.W. Bush lived a life marked by integrity and service to the country. Despite his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge in the 1992 campaign, he reluctantly realized he needed to eat those words. When confronted with a bipartisan appeal for higher taxes, Bush gave his approval knowing it would “be a real punch in the gut.”

As former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) recalled in his remarks at the funeral, Bush would often say, “When the really tough choices come, it’s the country, not me. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s for our country that I fought for.”

Such a principled and unselfish approach to public life stands in vivid contrast to Trump, who so often makes everything about himself. For Trump, life is a series of battles against foes or perceived foes. What’s important for Trump is that he comes out on top, regardless of the collateral damage to institutions, agreements and individuals.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney confidently predicted that historians in 50 or 100 years would say “that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush.”

Looking forward to history’s judgment was also on the lips of George W. Bush in his eulogy of his father. He said history books would state that “George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander in chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.”

Did Mulroney’s and George W. Bush’s remarks cause Trump to step back and wonder what historians might say about him, when @realDonaldTrump was permanently offline and unable to control the narrative? Did it cause Trump to worry about the final campaign — not the 2020 campaign, but the campaign for history’s approval — and consider modifying his rhetoric and behavior? 

Was Trump offended by Mulroney’s words that historians would say Bush was “more courageous, more principled and more honorable” than any other president, including Trump? Did it cross Trump’s mind about what would be said at his funeral and whether it would match up to the praises heaped on Bush?

Simpson struck a direct blow when discussing Bush’s sense of humor. “Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. … [Bush] knew what his mother and my mother always knew: Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.” 

The president may have taken offense at Mulroney’s characterization of Bush’s relationships with foreign leaders when he said that “every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute and brave.” With Trump’s often rancorous relationships with foreign leaders, Trump must have realized that these are not words likely to be spoken about him.

{mossecondads}Historian and biographer Jon Meacham praised Bush’s life code: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.” George W. Bush echoed his father’s treatment of people: “When he lost, he shouldered the blame.” From this list, Trump might claim some elements such as strength and staying the course. But truth, not blaming others, doing his best and forgiveness are not often said of Trump.

With former President Lincoln’s call for the “better angels of our nature” and George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light,” Meacham said that “both 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 instincts.” Did these words cause Trump to reflect at all about his own legacy?

Will Trump pivot to becoming more presidential and bipartisan? Will he wield his Twitter account for building up others and not just himself or tearing down others?

In the past two years, Trump has blown up the presidency and shattered basic democratic institutions and principles, and shattered relationships with people and nations. While we may hope that Bush’s funeral results in a fundamental reset of Trump’s presidency, given his history and persona, the hopes are not high.

But perhaps the rest of Washington might truly embrace cooperation, consensus, collaboration and civility to honor the legacy of George H.W. Bush, and in the process, make progress beneficial to all Americans.

Mike Purdy is a presidential historian and the founder of PresidentialHistory.com. Purdy is the author of a forthcoming book “Fathead! — 101 Insults by the Presidents About the Presidents.”

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump George H.W. Bush Hillary Clinton Mike Purdy White House

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