The Washington Post reports: “The family of former president George H.W. Bush has planned a state funeral that will steer clear of the kind of anti-Trump sentiment evident at the recent funeral of senator John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.
“The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President Donald Trump would be welcome at the funeral, scheduled Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, and to assure him that the focus would be on Bush’s life rather than their disagreements, according to one former administration official.”
You can look at this one of two ways. On one hand, inviting Trump and toning down the anti-Trump animus allows the entire country to celebrate Bush’s life. He left the divided, angry country one last gift — the gift of non-partisan celebration of an American hero.
Secondly, in addition to keeping the focus on Bush 41, his legacy and his family, the Bushes don’t need to gild the lily — or pile on.
There is no need to remind the country that Bush 41 was a great statesman, Trump a bratty, destructive force; Bush a war hero, Trump the beneficiary of five draft deferments; Bush a devoted husband, Trump a disloyal philanderer; and Bush a supporter of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act and someone who lived the creed “All men are created equal ...,” and Trump overtly racist, xenophobic and misogynistic — and someone who has tried to kick transgender Americans out of the military.
We already know Bush signed amendments to the far-reaching Clean Air Act in 1990; Trump revels in his climate-change denial and love of clean coal, which, we were recently reminded, isn’t clean.
We don’t need one of the eulogists to reiterate that Bush agreed to Paygo rules and made a budget deal to his severe political detriment, while Trump passed a tax cut for the rich that uncorked a gusher of red ink.
Most important, when we hear about Bush’s modesty, kindness, empathy, decency and respect for American institutions, it will not be necessary to add “unlike Trump!” at the end. We know. We get it.
There may be another reason to leave the Trump criticism out of this: the people most in need of some moral instruction and reflection these days are the heirs to Bush’s Republican Party. Trump, let’s face it, is beyond hope. He will not suddenly stop immigrant-bashing nor cease lying nor become intellectually curious.
However, there may be a few more Republicans in addition to Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona (on judges and protection for the special counsel), Tim Scott from South Carolina (on the nomination of Thomas Farr) and Bob Corker from Tennessee (on Saudi Arabia) who are capable of considering the moral and political cost of continued Trump sycophancy.
If Republicans don’t already have their dander up over slaps at Trump, they may be willing to listen and learn at the funeral service. We would hope they will hear something in this vein:
Happiness comes from a life well lived, in service to others and to causes larger than oneself. Political parties are a vehicle — sometimes — for achieving those noble ends, but there is nothing inherently noble in being an unthinking tribalist.
To the contrary, in the name of partisanship you are inclined to focus on your own re-election and comfort, for example freedom from tough questions, the promise of a future lobbying job, rather than on the higher purpose that should command your attention.
That higher purpose is set forth in your oath of office, “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, that is, to defend our democracy, both its written and unwritten rules.
That oath commands that you safeguard our independent judiciary to which qualified, non-partisan men and women are appointed and whose job it is to restrain the elected branches.
The preservation of the United States’ constitutional democracy also requires you to help to reinforce the international liberal order that for 70 years, since George H.W. Bush was one of the Navy’s youngest fighter pilots, has prevented another world war and allowed the United States to become the world’s only superpower.
And that oath, indeed democratic governance itself, demands not angels but men and women who are nevertheless able to demonstrate basic virtues such as honesty, diligence, fairness and self-restraint.
It was in all of these obligations that Bush set the gold standard. He modelled the behaviour of an ideal public servant.
He is celebrated now not because he was the nastiest, most partisan, most inflexible and most egotistical politician, but because he was not. If you want adulation from your fellow Americans and even a small footnote in the history books, you will model yourself on Bush and reject the false pretenders, the charlatans and the flatterers.
That’s what I hope Republicans will hear this week. And let’s also hope that they use the week’s respite from partisanship that Bush bequeathed us to self-reflect, re-evaluate the direction of their party and set a new course — one that would make Bush proud.
• Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post