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Randi Kreiss

Can the ship of state be righting itself?


I marched on Washington, D.C., on April 5, 1992, when George Herbert Walker Bush was president of the United States. My mother, my daughter and I, along with a few hundred thousand other people, walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to support women’s reproductive rights.

At the time, the right to choose an abortion was being threatened, and President Bush tried to thread the needle by being officially opposed to choice while having his wife, Barbara, let it be known that she felt differently.

We chanted, carried signs and threw tennis balls over the fence onto the White House lawn. Then we took the train home.

Last week, like many of you, I watched Bush’s funeral. The emotion of the moment caught me by surprise. The pageantry of his passing was suddenly so heartbreaking, and at the same time, heartening.

It was the unintended comparison between two presidents that both broke my heart and also gave me reason to hope that our listing ship of state may slowly be righting itself. As we watched, we remembered how decency could be a cherished value and how far we have drifted from that ideal.

The life story of Bush and his service to the country are a rebuke to Donald Trump, the man, and President Trump, America’s commander in chief. As Trump sat in the row of presidents at the funeral, his arms crossed against his chest, no one needed to say that he did not belong, had not earned and should not continue in the Oval Office.

Bush’s last days, his death and funeral service unfolded against the backdrop of breaking news that the witnesses who stand against Trump may end his presidency, or alter it irreparably. Testimony by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and the sentencing of former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was gathering momentum as Bush was laid to rest.

His civility illuminates Trump’s inadequacies, not just as a president but also as a human being. Bush was the full-color photo against Trump’s bleached-out negative.

Jon Meacham, Bush’s biographer, said that he was our last soldier/statesman, that he was an imperfect man who dedicated himself to creating a more perfect union. Meacham delivered a stirring eulogy, beginning by asking why Bush had been spared at the age of 20 when his plane was shot down, and then answering his own question by praising Bush’s life of service.

I don’t know if Bush was a good president or not. I have no idea what questionable things he did or allowed his representatives to do in the heat of presidential politics. I didn’t agree with much of his platform and agenda. Still, he seemed like a good man, a loyal friend and a loving husband and father. And in that, he stood apart and above Trump, who has shown himself to be a philanderer, a liar and a racist.

As Bush was being buried, Trump seemed poised for a kind of demise as well, sinking under the weight of testimony against him in the halls of justice. Those of us who believe he has brought disgrace to the office of the president have reason to hope today that the forces of law and order and honor may be gaining ground over dissension, dishonesty and hubris. Part of what makes us think so is the potentially damning evidence against Trump. And the other part is remembering a president who tried to do right while in office and leave the country in better shape than he found it. He reminded us of the possibility of collegiality and decorum.

When George W. Bush eulogized his father, he said, “Dad taught me another special lesson. He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”

In his inaugural address, the elder Bush said, “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.” 

Amen to that.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.