The fact that they were all gathered for a funeral did not dim the conversations between Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, and their families. But the arrival of Donald Trump immediately cast a gloom over the whole affair. While the former presidents listened and responded to both moments of humor and calls for prayer during the service for President George H W Bush, Trump and Melania glared straight ahead, slowly reducing the paper program in his hands into a crumpled mass. There were hymns. Trump didn’t sing. There were readings. Trump didn’t even bother to look at the words. There were jokes. Trump didn’t laugh.
If Trump’s presence was so galling that it cast a pall over a funeral, attending the event was obviously no more pleasurable for Trump. He sat through most of the ceremony with his face twisted in a frown and his arms folded across his chest. Because the qualities that earned the elder Bush praise in the National Cathedral—his kindness to strangers, his humility in the face of history, his refusal to shirk the blame for his own actions, and above all his reluctance to strike back against insults—were all counter to anything in Trump’s own nature, the fact that they were getting praise, amounted to little less than an insult to Trump.
Bush biographer Jon Meacham: His life code was: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course,” And that was, and is, the most American of creeds.
The idea of being truthful, accepting blame, and forgiveness are also the least Trumpian of creeds. Donald Trump has refused to sit down to be roasted by comics, but what he got on Wednesday was something even more painful—a reminder that the virtues most people value, are virtues he absolutely does not have.
George H W Bush was far from a perfect person, something that even those standing to eulogize him admitted. But the things about Bush that drew warm memories and heartfelt thanks on Wednesday were not his savvy investments nor his blue-blood background. He was praised for the moments he remembered the less fortunate and times when he sacrificed his own political standing for what he saw as the greater good. Trump appeared to take every moment of that praise as a slap to everything he is. Because it was.
As the Washington Post reports, the funeral for Bush wasn’t marked by speeches directly attacking Trump. But then, Bush didn’t die with Trump still using him as an ashtray for his daily hate. Besides, just because Trump’s name wasn’t in the speeches, didn’t mean Trump wasn’t on the mind of the speakers—or the listeners.
The first speaker made a point of praising and explaining Bush’s “thousand points of light” speech, which Trump has repeatedly mocked. The next put NAFTA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Clean Air Act as the peak of Bush’s accomplishments.
It was not lost on the audience that Trump has slammed NAFTA as one of the worst trade deals ever; mocked a journalist’s physical disability; and rolled back scores of environmental regulations.
And there were few moments where Trump’s name was more loudly not spoken than when former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney delivered this comment on Bush.
Mulroney: There’s a word for this. It’s called “leadership.” Leadership. And let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, 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.
Mulroney didn’t follow up by saying that Trump was an untrustworthy blowhard, as well as a slight and sniveling coward. He didn’t have to.
Again and again, those speaking of Bush returned to his statements on creating a “kinder and gentler” nation. Whether Bush followed up on any aspect of that goal is debatable. What’s not is that, even at the time, Trump attacked the whole concept of being “kinder.” It’s a theme he’s continued ever since, calling for a nation that is to his mind “tougher” but is by any measure crueler, less fair, and which regards gentleness as an invitation to receive abuse.
Those who were at the cathedral were there to praise George Bush, but they buried Donald Trump. And as Trump slunk out the side door, avoiding any conversation with others present, he had to be thinking about just how brief, and how cold, his own funeral could be.