There are moments that offer glimpses into the needy nature of the current president. The National day of mourning is one of those. While the country slowed down for a state funeral, Donald Trump did not stop with the Twitter rant of the day. However, they are becoming increasingly needy, the media has refused to carry them. This is good. In fact, American media should stop quoting them, period. They offer little, and as we have seen can crash markets.
But they are a window into how much this president needs to be at the center of all. Two of his tweets are also revealing as to his state of mind. Normal people do not look forward to a funeral. He has written this twice.
There were other tweets where he desperately tried to change the subject. Between the state funeral, and the sentencing memo turned in by Robert S. Mueller on General Michael Flynn, one has to wonder how mercurial the president is getting. The last days of Richard Nixon were like that, mercurial and paranoid.
Then there was his behavior during the state funeral. It is obvious he is not liked by the other presidents. None of the Clintons offered their hands, the Obamas behaved in a mature manner. They took the president’s hand. Though there was hardly any joy. Incidentally, presidents do give a eulogy, the family did not permit that.
Incidentally, he did not fully join in the service. Nor did he put his hand over his heart at all occasions when you are supposed to.
Trump proceeded to return to his airing of grievances after the funeral with two Tweets. Granted, one was funny. He cited the Rasmussen poll, that is considered an outlier. Part of the reason, the eulogies were not about Trump, but they were likely taken personally. The description of George Bush the elder was of a man who wanted to serve. It was of one who loved the nation, and who was a real leader.
Trump is not alone. He was hardly the only one with an ax to grind with both Bush presidencies. Some people on social media were incapable of showing maturity and just avoid the whole thing, if need be, for a day or two. In this sense, Trump is far more a creature of the current state of political dysfunction than the leader of it.
When Abraham Lincoln died it was said, “he now belongs to the ages.” This applies to every president. They enter the full realm of history. A state funeral, and perhaps the at times excessive hagiography that is part of the process, is just a moment in time. History and the analysis of it do not stop with a burial. It will be put on hold for forty-eight to seventy-two hours while a family buries a patriarch.
After that, we can continue arguing the legacy of the president. The elder’s legacy is complex. It is hardly black and white. But with the distance of years, it is clear that we could have seen a Europe spiraling out of control with the fall of the Soviet Union. The actions taken by Bush, who was a world leader, might have prevented a European war. This war could have meant the use of nuclear weapons.
Kuwait is more complex. And it did set the ground, in my view, for the long war we are engaged at present. Historians will likely argue which was the high point of America’s influence. But Bush the elder could be seen as one of those moments.
This was obvious in the coalition he put together for the First Gulf War. It was the largest allied coalition since World War Two. The current president has rejected that world order that likely peaked with Bush the Elder.
There were also dark spots. He was the Vice-President during the Iran-Contra years. And his years in office involved the projection of power into Latin America, such as the Panama invasion. It was also the tail end of the Maya genocide and the Central American wars. In some ways, the current refugee flow from Central America is a direct consequence of that era and subsequent policies with other administrations. If there is something that can be said about the United States and its backyard is that there is an intense sense of continuity, regardless of political party.
As Senator Robert Byrd asked after 911, is this blowback?
And now that Bush has fully entered history, we can, once again, discuss this. The period of national mourning is over.
Ye shall not speak Ill of the dead is a nice sentiment. But presidencies do involve some truths that make us uncomfortable as a nation. We need to confront that history fully. However, no presidency is black or white. They are all shades of gray. History, the real thing, is hardly a Manichean affair.