There’s that line from one of Horace’s Odes – “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” – even if Wilfred Owen didn’t think so. “Sweet” may not be the right word either – “satisfying” might be better – but decorum – fitting and proper – is the right word. One should do things properly. Good manners matter, even in difficult circumstances, or particularly in difficult circumstances. Formality helps, as does a bit of tolerance. Don’t be a jerk, and the Bush family knows this. The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report this:
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 Sen. John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.
The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President 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.
This was a compromise, even if an awkward compromise:
The truce with Trump allows the Bush family, and the nation, to honor the legacy of a president who guided the United States through the 1991 Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union without becoming mired in today’s toxic politics. Trump in turn has been effusive in his praise of Bush since his death… But the detente also comes after Trump’s long history of insulting and taunting the Bush family – calling his 2016 primary opponent “low-energy” Jeb Bush, saying the 9/11 attacks were partly due to President George W. Bush’s failure to keep the nation safe, and mocking George H. W. Bush’s signature “thousand points of light” volunteerism program. And it comes as Trump has fully taken control of the Republican Party, leading a bare-knuckle rejection of the traditional GOP establishment that the Bush family represented and helped build.
But let that slide for one day, masking resentment with formality:
While Trump will not deliver a eulogy, he will be seated in the front row alongside former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush’s son, former president George W. Bush, will deliver a eulogy.
Neither he nor the other eulogists – former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former senator Alan K. Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham – are expected to focus on the stark differences between the genteel and patrician Bush and the bombastic Trump.
“If you have any sensitivity for human feelings, you just don’t get into that,” Simpson said in an interview Monday. “It’s not what a funeral is for.”
And some things are, after all, rather obvious:
Another Bush confidant said, “The comparisons are presenting themselves; we are not heightening them,” according to a person familiar with the funeral preparations.
A third person, who like others close to the preparations spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the tone of Wednesday’s funeral will reflect the sense of propriety of Bush, who “wouldn’t want anyone there to feel uncomfortable, including the incumbent president.”
“It’s interesting, though, that praising the Bushes or McCain risks sounding critical of Trump even when Trump’s in no way part of the thinking,” the third person said.
So tell him this:
Three current and former administration officials said there had been deep frustration in the White House over the anti-Trump tone of the Sept. 1 funeral for McCain, which Trump did not attend. One senior administration official said Trump’s reaction to the criticism was “almost paralyzing for a week,” and officials have been assured that Bush’s funeral would be different.
It won’t be different:
The eulogists all knew the 41st president for many years. Mulroney was Canada’s prime minister from 1984 to 1993 and helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Bush. He also gave eulogies at the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy Reagan.
Meacham, who wrote “Destiny and Power,” a 2015 biography of Bush, also delivered a eulogy at Barbara Bush’s funeral. “In hours of war and of peace, of tumult and of calm, the Bushes governed in a spirit of congeniality, of civility, and of grace,” Meacham said. “Barbara and George Bush put country above party, the common good above political gain, and service to others above the settling of scores.”
Mulroney is NAFTA. Trump hates NAFTA. Meacham will speak of congeniality and civility and grace, Trump keeps saying “We have to stop being so NICE to people, folks!”
Donald Trump will be unhappy, but Max Boot, the former Republican, is not surprised:
George H. W. Bush and Donald J. Trump had almost nothing in common beyond their privileged upbringing and membership in the Republican Party.
During World War II, Bush volunteered for the Navy at age 18 and two years later was shot down over the Pacific. Trump won five draft deferments to avoid the Vietnam War. Bush held a long series of appointed and elective government positions before becoming president, making him one of the most knowledgeable occupants of the Oval Office. Trump had no government experience and still has next-to-no knowledge of policy. Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun – “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.
But Trump won that battle:
Bush was the most successful one-term president in the nation’s history. He presided over victory in the Persian Gulf War, the peaceful end of the Cold War and the unification of Germany – all achievements that today might appear to have been inevitable but could easily have had a far less happy outcome. Yet he never got any love from the right. Conservatives did not see Bush as one of them, and by end of his term they had turned against him.
The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan – and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.
And the rest is history:
The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out. Opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats doomed the deal, forcing a temporary government shutdown. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.
From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus.
Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal – and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise – helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.
Bush did see that:
Bush saw what was happening – and it horrified him. In “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” author Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything… They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever… They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”
Well, now they have taken over, and it is impssible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.
Frank Bruni saw that too:
Kinder. Gentler. Those were words that George H. W. Bush famously used in his inaugural speech, when he was sworn in as the 41st president of the United States. I say “famously” not because the verbiage was particularly visionary, but because it evolved, over the years, into shorthand for his philosophy, for his character, for what the Republican Party needed to be and for what he wanted to make it.
The words fell into a passage of the speech that, in relation to the “American carnage” of the current president’s oratory, seems both quaint and exotic — and makes you yearn for an earlier time. “America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle,” Bush told the crowd arrayed in front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989. “We as a people have such purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”
That’s not going to happen:
In reality and in retrospect, Bush was a kinder and gentler breed of leader. He believed in courtesy, as any lawmaker who dealt with him and any journalist who repeatedly crossed paths with him can attest. He believed in manners, not merely as an outgrowth of his patrician background and not principally in a fussy way, but because he saw them as an expression of respect. To read his voluminous letters is to encounter a man who cared deeply about that – about precedent, propriety, tradition. And, yes, about kindness.
And yes, that was a mistake:
That softness and soulfulness at times earned him derision, as when Newsweek published a cover story about his 1988 presidential campaign that was titled “Bush Battles the Wimp Factor.” For decades afterward, everyone in the Bush family seethed about it.
I look back now and wonder if it was really an unintended compliment. We could use more wimps like him.
Evan Thomas agrees with that:
In October 1987, when George H. W. Bush announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.'” The article did not quite come out and declare that Bush was a weakling, and it noted that Bush’s own advisers were worried about the “wimp” label. But the clear implication of the cover story (which I edited, penciling in the word “wimp” over the objection of the story’s reporter, Margaret Warner) was that Bush somehow lacked the inner fortitude to lead the free world.
How wrong we were.
This was not a wimp:
As the 41st president, Bush was anything but a wimp. In 1991, he had the courage to abandon his own “read my lips” vow and instead raise taxes in the cause of restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget, left badly out of whack by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Agreeing to raise taxes was necessary to get the Democrats to agree to spending cuts, but it was political suicide for Bush. It cost him a second term in office, which he had almost surely earned by bringing the Cold War to a successful, peaceful conclusion and by driving Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm. Bush had wisely limited the first Gulf War to its stated war aims and resisted the temptation to push on to Baghdad. If only his own son had been so prudent after 9/11 and stuck to liberating Afghanistan without plunging into Iraq.
This was a careful man:
Bush was at heart a moderate Republican, a nearly extinct species today. He was fiscally conservative, but he believed that government had a role in protecting the poor and redressing social injustice – all within reason, of course. The on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand tepidness of Republican moderation is easy to mock, and has been, mercilessly, by tea partiers and talk show shouters. But Bush nurtured a belief in compromise and consensus even, or perhaps especially, if that meant swallowed pride. In foreign policy he was an internationalist, an interventionist if necessary – but never an adventurer. He was smart to order his minions not to gloat when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. He knew that communism would fade away more quickly if Uncle Sam did not dance on its grave.
He’d wait, because he is who he is:
In a boastful age, when young people feel the need to “brand” themselves, Bush’s circumspection seems almost quaint. But the current dysfunction in Washington and the mindless one-upmanship played out on cable TV is enough to make one nostalgic for a time when politicians of different persuasions tried to listen and deal with each other. Bush as much as anyone embodied that lost age, when politics were said to stop at the water’s edge and there was a sense of shared purpose among lawmakers confronting the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War.
It would be a mistake to mythologize Bush. Politics were hardly pure in his time, and he made compromises that strained his sense of principle (like going along with Reagan’s antiabortion stand or pandering to conservatives by promising never to raise taxes). He could wander off the high road when political exigency demanded. In the 1988 election, he allowed his political henchmen, Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, to paint the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. George Dukakis, as a weak-on-crime nerd – and to play to white fears of black criminals. Nor was Bush ego-free. At Newsweek, he let us know how mad he was at being called a “wimp.” But it is impossible to imagine him resorting to the petty vindictiveness of a Trump tweetstorm.
Bush has been partly forgotten by history, but America’s 45th president may make us nostalgic for the grace and manners – and self-discipline – of our 41st.
So he never was a wimp, but David French argues that was always the issue:
One of the more puzzling aspects of modern Republican discourse is the equation of Donald Trump’s aggression with manliness and the slander of his (male) critics as feminine. As near as I can tell, the foundation of the argument is essentially stylistic and tactical… In a 2016 magazine piece I noted the hosannas poured on Trump for his alleged masculinity. A popular pickup artist said he “tight game.” He was the “ultimate alpha.” Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros said, “The Left has tried to culturally feminize this country in a way that is disgusting. And you see blue-collar voters – men – this is like their last vestige – their last hope is Donald Trump to get their masculinity back.” Another Fox personality called him “street,” meaning it as a compliment.
As for his critics? Well, if you’re a man and criticize Trump – especially on moral grounds – prepare for the allegation that you’re “pearl-clutching.” MAGA-world will call you “low-testosterone” or “dilettantish.” In fact, the accusation of weakness will often substitute for argument. After all, why argue the merits of a point when you can just accuse a man of wetting his panties?
But there’s nothing new here:
The Right has long struggled with the notion that “toughness” requires a particular kind of angry public posture. As a colleague noted to me yesterday, one of the hallmarks of the Trump era is that the president makes old conflicts more “electric” rather than creating new ones. It’s stunning to consider this when you consider the basic facts of Bush’s biography, but he battled the “wimp factor” and claims that he was “too nice” for much of his political career. It’s a sign of our fallen world that all too many people misinterpret the presence of manners as a lack of manliness. It’s destructive to our culture and body politic that all too many people interpret kindness as a lack of conviction.
After Bush’s death, this almost 40-year-old clip of Bush on CBS’s Face the Nation rocketed around the Internet. In it, Bush presents the best answer I’ve ever heard to the charge that he was too nice:
“I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That’s toughness. That’s fiber. That’s character. I have got it. And if I happen to be decent in the process that should not be a liability.”
Now add this:
As we raise our sons, who is the better model? Is it the “wimp” who enlisted in the Navy at age 18, became one of the service’s youngest aviators, was shot down over the Pacific and rescued, went on to a lifetime of public service (including the presidency), led the nation in war, and managed the fall of the Soviet Union with calmness, ending a great-power conflict without triggering a cataclysm? Is it the beloved husband (of one wife for more than 70 years) and father – a man of real faith?
Or is it the “tough guy” who ducked his war, paid off porn stars, gloried in his adultery, married three women, built a business empire in part through nepotism and “suspect” tax schemes, bankrupted casinos, and now adopts his aggressive posture mainly through public insults and angry tweets? This isn’t the masculinity that we should respect. And it’s hardly “manly” to defend behavior that is barely removed from the posturing and strutting of the schoolyard bully.
George H. W. Bush a wimp? No, he was a man in full. Decency requires strength. The conservative movement (and our nation) would do well to remember that vital truth.
That might be difficult. Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio did the research:
We found that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.” Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as “breast augmentation” and “menopause.”
And this has to do with Trump alone:
In contrast, fragile masculinity was not associated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or support for John McCain in 2008 – suggesting that the correlation of fragile masculinity and voting in presidential elections was distinctively stronger in 2016.
The same finding emerged in 2018… In the more than 390 House elections pitting a Republican candidate against a Democratic candidate, support for the Republican candidate was higher in districts that, based on Google search data, had higher levels of fragile masculinity. However, there was no significant relationship between fragile masculinity and voting in the 2014 or 2016 congressional elections. This suggests that fragile masculinity has now become a stronger predictor of voting behavior.
Kevin Drum adds this:
I was uninterested at first because I figured the Trump effect was really just a Republican effect. But no, insecure men voted in unusually large numbers for the Republican candidate only when that candidate was Trump. And two years later, the effect was still there in a midterm election that was heavily dominated by Trump’s presence.
If this holds up, it suggests that Trump really did appeal to a kind of toxic masculinity in a way that other Republicans haven’t. If it’s true, it’s quite possible that it’s galvanized mostly by factors that affect the self-image of men who have grown up thinking that stereotypical manliness was a core part of who they had to be. Inability to be a good breadwinner would certainly be part of that. Being the “losers” of the feminist movement would be part of it. Being forced to give up their traditional control of family and sex – no more demands, no more casual harassment – would be part of it. A candidate who explicitly appealed to this frustration and promised to fix it – which neither Romney nor McCain did – would attract their votes especially if he were running against that shrill harpy Hillary Clinton.
Long story short, this is interesting to the extent that it shows who Trump specifically appealed to above and beyond normal Republican candidates.
It’s also something for Democrats to give some serious thought to, even if, like Trump, they currently have few real solutions to offer. I’m not sure what a “real” solution might be, but it’s worth noting that one thing it’s not is an insistence on nominating a man in 2020. Although the authors found that insecure men might like Trump, they held no grudge against women running for office: “Notably, fragile masculinity was unrelated to support for female candidates in the 2018 elections.”
That means we can feel free to nominate anyone we want. It just needs to be someone who knows how to talk to insecure men.
But who knows how to do that? It’s just as well that George H. W. Bush is gone. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – but what if that kind and gentle and thoughtful country disappeared years ago?