Littwin: Even while on the presidents’ row at the Bush funeral, Trump sat alone

"Remembering 41" by Geoff Livingston, Creative Commons via Flickr

I’m not sure who said this, but it’s obviously true, and never more so than today: When a president dies, the funeral is not only about him. It’s also about whoever occupies the Oval Office at that moment. 

And so we have this contrast:

In a moment of grace over the past summer, the Bush family let Donald Trump know he would be welcome at George H.W. Bush’s funeral. Since Trump was president, it was appropriate, the senior Bush felt strongly, for him to be there.

Trump — who was pointedly not invited to John McCain’s funeral — accepted the invitation. And he graciously tweeted praise of the elder Bush. But at the cathedral, he would be the one sitting at the end of the presidents’ row, often seen staring straight ahead, arms folded, mouth turned down. You couldn’t tell if he was angry or if he was uncomfortable or if it was just the way he always looked. In any case, it was definitely awkward.

When the Trumps arrived at the National Cathedral, Fox News’ Chris Wallace said it was like “a chill” had fallen over the front row where the former First Families were sitting and happily chatting among themselves. The row suddenly went silent. The Trumps shook hands with the Obamas, who were seated next to them. Michelle Obama’s face went cold immediately, though, after releasing Trump’s hand. Hillary Clinton never looked Trump’s way, though she did apparently nod to Melania. Bill looked over only for a moment. Trump made no attempt to address the Carters, who were at the other end of the row.

In a break with tradition, Trump wasn’t asked to speak at the funeral, and we were told it was because the president’s son would play that role. Bush 43 gave a moving speech, a love letter from son to father, and, as everyone expected, he sobbed as he finished. No one could imagine Trump, who recently mocked Bush 41’s signature thousand points of light — “What the hell is that?” Trump had asked — eulogizing Bush or any of his predecessors, each of whom sees him as a blight on the presidency. 

Trump knew, as everyone knew, that he wasn’t really welcome, that he was an outsider and, to many, a pariah. And he knew, as he couldn’t help but know, that every bit of praise for Bush 41 at the ceremony would necessarily be seen as an implicit rebuke of him, whether intentional or not. He had heard the rumors, as we all had heard, that the senior Bush, of the Republican dynastic Bushes, might have even voted for Hillary Clinton for president. 

Much of the talk at the funeral was of Bush’s integrity and of decency and of sacrifice, all qualities seen lacking in TrumpWorld. At McCain’s funeral, the Trump references were clear, as when George W. Bush said, “John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.”

At Bush’s funeral, the references were not direct. They may not have been about Trump at all. And yet, no one could have heard the words only as praise for Bush.

As Bush biographer Jon Meacham, who was the first of four eulogists, said of his subject: “His life code, as he said, 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.”

Bush was overpraised, of course. It’s what happens at all funerals, but particularly at those where the eulogists have to compete with the outsize pomp of the ceremony. And in the days leading up to the funeral, cable TV news would all but canonize Bush because that’s what happens on cable TV. He was beloved by Americans, we heard, when, in truth, people more likely thought of him fondly.

For the record, he wasn’t a great president, as some would say. History will likely judge him as a fair president — particularly for one who made it through only one term — who was at his best at international relations, particularly at the time of the Soviet collapse and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

His eulogists would praised him for his humility, for being the last soldier-statesman, for being the kind of president who could say he wanted a kinder, gentler politics. But, if a good man, he was one whose integrity could give way to ambition. Toward that ambition, in the worst example, one not easily reconciled or forgiven, he would give over his 1988 presidential campaign to political operative Lee Atwater. The tenor of the campaign led to the infamous racist Willie Horton ad — actually produced by an independent group — which tied Mike Dukakis to an African-American murderer who, while on a furlough from a Massachusetts prison, had raped a white woman and stabbed her boyfriend.

On his deathbed, Atwater apologized for saying he would make Horton into Dukakis’s running mate. I never heard Bush apologize for a campaign message that Trump could easily have embraced. As many have noted, the patrician Bush, who truly believed in the concept of noblesse oblige, also believed in farming out the dirty work to the help. 

But in most other ways, Bush was everything Trump is not. Maybe the best story I heard on Bush came via Meacham. After giving the eulogy, Meacham told NBC’s Willie Geist that he had read the words to Bush a few days before he had died.

And upon hearing the planned eulogy, Bush had said: “That’s an awful lot about me, Jon.”


  1. Littwin wrote this article from his view. Donald Trump had written of the mistakes made through the many administrations, in his books, and when he spoke and was interviewed for decades. He always expressed his interests was business, but was interested and followed politics. In Business, a decision could be made, and see action within few months. In Politic there was talk, talk, talk, and nothing happened in decades, if ever.
    ——-And every one of those Presidents sitting on that row, beside Donald Trump was guilty of letting their advisors talk them into nation building, instead of continuing to lead, and hold each and every country , and leaders, responsible to lead their own country, defend or build, and then assist neighboring countries who needed assistance. USA, Canada, United Kingdom, was really the military arms for United Nations, and some others would assist, or not. That depended on who was in power in countries, when need arose.
    ——–Donald deliberately shook hands with Barrack Obama, knowing camera would be on them, to see what the reactions would be. However, Barrack Obama policies created a mess, and Donald Trump has reversed most of those, with border security – and the wall, still on tap. I did not expect to see Donald make that in PHOTO OP, BY GOING DOWN THE WHOLE LINE, SHAKING HANDS. THAT WOULD BE HIPOCRITICAL, BUT LEFTIST EXPECT THAT. President Donald Trump is represent all of us (63 million) who elected him.
    ——-I would also point out that Donald Trump went out of his way in 1988 to support George H. W. Bush, in Iowa and New Hampshire to speak for George Bush, and to raised funds (large funds) , and George H. W. Bush went on to be candidate and be elected. George H. W. Bush also asked Donald Trump to speak at Convention in 1988, for the election of George H. W. Bush. (So I was a bit astounded when Bush Family turned against Donald, just because he defeated JEB BUSH in debate, and killed his drive for presidency. Jeb was in trouble, or his family would not have had to go on campaign trail for him. (I did not support Jeb Bush due to his policies on immigration, and the Schivao Case).

  2. The Dumpster® is a dyspeptic old man.
    No one likes him.
    And, most importantly, when he is out of office, he will be shunned like the black plague.

  3. You wind up sitting in a pew next to someone you called one of the worst woman abusers of all time, someone you claimed for years wasn’t even born in America, and someone you threatened to ” lock her up ” in jail in front of stirred up excitable ignoramuses. Trump is starting to receive the blowback created solely by himself, or rather his nasty, festering gob. Trump was the giant turd in the punchbowl at Bush senior’s funeral and was appropriately treated as such. George H.W. Bush was ten times the man Trump will ever hope to be. Rest in peace.

  4. Maybe the previous presidents are on to something. Maybe it’s time to shun Trump and his more cultish followers. Maybe the national intuition, the country’s gut, is correct.

    Maybe the Trumpsters should have to wear those red hats for the rest of their lives. Maybe Trump-Pence yard signs and bumper stickers should be mandatory adornments for their lawns and cars.

    What if we post their opinion pieces and “news” stories in a particular shade of color (Russia Red?), denoting that facts may have been replaced with “truthy-feels”. Kind of like the labels they put on vitamins so you know they’re not real medications.

    For safety’s sake. For our national interest’s sake. For the children.

    Being a supporter of an outright racist, misogynistic regime is one thing, Republicans have been there before after all…but when you add treason and sedition, well…It’s best if everyone knows that about them right?

    It’s not as if they’re hard to identify either. You can already see a steady stream of carpetbag parachutes leaving the Republican plane. That said, there is clearly a contingent that is willing to go down with the plane no matter how deranged the pilot is.

    In my opinion, that kind of stupidity and blind allegiance are dangerous. It goes without question that these traitors will be held in the same vein as the folks who fought for the Confederacy, but shouldn’t they also be treated as less than reliable when it comes to making decisions in the future?

    If they fell for such an obvious con job this time, what happens the next time someone dangles a shining object in front of them? Who knows what we get when they’re duped again.

    Maybe we should just treat them like the gullible grandpa who gets to carry coupons in his wallet because he keeps giving his money to Nigerian Princes for banking transfer fees.

  5. Littwin needs to take a Bath, wash his hair, get off Pot for a few days before writing any biased articles based on his cloudy observations. !!

  6. Bush supporters, as you noted, Mike, did not cover themselves in glory during the ’88 campaign. Country singer Loretta Lynn, who will undoubtedly be called “beloved” by the media on the sad day she eventually passes, said at a rally about Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, (Why would I vote for him?) “Why, I can’t even pronounce his name!” The entire crowd laughed. No apology yet to the still-living former governor of Massachusetts from America’s coal miner’s daughter.

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