George H. W. Bush’s Funeral – The Words and So Much More

With shorter life spans and the absence of airplanes to ease the logistics, having five living U.S. presidents together for an event never happened in American history until the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 1991. Then it was Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, along with Jimmy Carter as the one Democratic president in attendance. Now for George H. W. Bush’s funeral, Donald Trump found himself in the front pew alongside three former Democratic presidents he’s disparaged as illegitimate (Barrack Obama), as guilty of assaulting women (Bill Clinton), and as the supposedly second most worst president ever (Jimmy Carter), behind Obama. Did that make for a fun greeting between them all when Donald and Melania joined the other presidents and their spouses for the service at the Washington National Cathedral?

Hardly, as everyone’s facial expressions made evident then and in the immediate aftermath of Donald joining the group. Barrack Obama managed an aggrieved smile, with an upwardly pushed chin expressing disgust, anger and sadness at least as prominent as the happiness conveyed on enjoying the sitting (truly sitting) president’s presence. After a smile for Melania Trump, Michelle Obama became far grimmer and more subdued, eyes lowered, than before the Trumps crashed the party. Most notable of all, though, was how Bill Clinton only slightly turned his head Donald’s way, with neither man making any attempt to exchange a handshake—while Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead, eyes wide and lips firmly set in anger. As for the Donald, well, he soon crossed his arm and was pouting as usual: a man without friends.

George W. Bush making his way down the cathedral’s main aisle led to still more interesting body language. The Donald (mouth agape with a modicum of surprise) had hardly stood up to greet Bush ’43 before W. had moved on to greeting the Obamas. Michelle and Jimmy Carter gave the grieving son the biggest, most reassuring smiles among those assembled there in the front pew. (Hillary didn’t get the memo to be cordial, and barely managed a smile.)

Next it was on to the formal remarks. For the first time since LBJ’s funeral when Nixon was in office, the current president wasn’t invited to eulogize a predecessor. That’s probably a good thing given how Donald’s most memorable words as his own dad’s funeral had been to say his father’s greatest achievement in life had been his “fantastic son.” Instead, George W. Bush and family showed us what true grief looks like in remembering the man he called “the best father a son or daughter could have.” Eyes closed, head down, eyebrows knitted together in concentrating on not totally “losing it,” W. nearly crumpled in sorrow. Family members in the opposite front pew from the former presidents weren’t far behind. Want to know what sadness looks like? Note the puffy eyelids, the wince across the cheeks, and the corners of the mouth drooping among the expressions from those assembled there.

Was George H. W. Bush as decent a man as his son recalled him being? Largely so, I’d say.  Sure, there were shortcomings from invoking Willie Horton to nominating Clarence Thomas to joining Reagan in being a slow train in addressing the AIDS epidemic that was the leading killer of young men in America by the time that Bush ’41 left office.  But the sadness George H. W. Bush often showed in life was more in the reflective, pondering mode—a mode that the impulsive Donald Trump isn’t even vaguely familiar with. It’s as if Trump feels sadness in that he wants his greater glory to be more widely, even universally acknowledged. So he feels disappointed when that’s not the case. In contrast, Bush ’41 came as humbly close as someone who achieves the Oval Office could ever most likely come to not wanting any attention bestowed on himself at all.

Trump and the Trinity of Blood, Money, and Sex

The Israeli author Amos Oz has noted the wicked irony of the Jewish people being forever condemned to rehash in conversations an unlikely pair of men they’ve suffered because of: Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler. So it is with America and Donald Trump, who seemingly lives to have his name on everybody’s lips. Day after day there’s another incident.  It’s amazing how Trump keeps reducing the dignity of being our President by violating basic standards of decency faster than anyone could have ever anticipated. All of which brings me to the subject of this particular blog: Stormy Daniels.

Bill Clinton had his infidelities exposed, from Jennifer Flowers to taking advantage of a still very young and impressionable Monica Lewinsky. But there’s never been quite anything like having a sitting President under scrutiny after his lawyer, Michael Cohen, admits to having paid $130,000 in 2016 to keep a porn star silent about the intimate details of her alleged relationship with the President a decade ago.

What kind of person is Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, aka Peggy Peterson in the legal agreement in which Trump is referred to as David Dennison? Should she get to tell her whole story to the media, including “60 Minutes,” the person on screen will show us smiles of varying intensities, accompanied by an upper lip raised in disgust, anger, and contempt. Now the smiles aren’t something for which Trump has any emotional affinity. He’s sadder than any President we’ve had since Richard Nixon. But disgust is the other emotion Trump specializes in. Everything stinks, is gross, causing a famous germophobe like Trump to also have problems with true intimacy, as disgust is an emotion all about creating boundaries between yourself and what’s around you.

Trump doesn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. His “loveable loser” of a brother did, and Freddy died of alcoholism.  But Trump will have sex, lots of sex, with wives and prostitutes alike. In Fire & Furry, Steve Bannon gets quoted as saying there have been “a hundred” instances like Stormy Daniels,  and Abe Wallach, the former head of acquisitions for the Trump Organization, has said that “Donald is actually the most insecure man I’ve ever met,” somebody who needs to “fill a void inside. He used to do it with deals and sex. Now he does it with publicity.”

Well, actually it seems like Wallach got it half-right: insecurity, a void, a whirl of activity, yes. Trump moving on from sex? Not so much. Cohen’s pay off (supposedly from his own pocket, without being reimbursed by Trump personally or at least his campaign) remains to be investigated.  Will that detail become another clue scrutinized by Robert Mueller’s team? As a journalist I once heard being interviewed on the radio said: after a few years in this profession, you learn that if the story doesn’t include at least one of these three elements—blood, money or sex—then it isn’t a story with any real legs to it.

Trump’s got the blood part down pat. My tribe, not yours. What is “Make America Great Again” if not in some measure a dog’s whistle plea to make America white again (as many a commentator has noted)? Ditto when it comes to money and sex, and the intersection of the two. The New Yorker has reported that when Trump offered a former Playmate of the Year (Karen McDougal) money after sex, she declined, to which Trump replied: “You are special.” What photographs, video, or other kinds of evidence the Russians might own and could be using to blackmail Trump given his sexcapades, who knows. But I can say that the nature of Stormy Daniels, as evident from her photos, isn’t of somebody likely to be cowed by any of Trump’s legal shenanigans. Monica Lewinsky responded to all of the publicity that came her way with a mixture of bittersweet smiles and eyes-unfocused sadness, but Daniels will, indeed, be stormy not subdued.

To me, Bill Clinton’s ugly penchant for cheating on Hillary is rooted in a comment he allegedly made to his friend Vernon Jordan on a golf course one day: “I used to be a fat, poor kid and now I can have any woman I want.” Bill’s dalliances have always struck me as mostly a matter of that former leader wanting to see who he could woo and seduce next, as a testament to his personal powers of persuasion.  Money never much interested Bill, I believe, except as re-election funds. With Trump, however, cash and sex are more closely married than Donald is to Melania. Our current president’s idea of pillow talk? That apparently consisted of asking Daniels how much she makes in royalties from her various pornographic movies.