According to Milbank and too many other cynical observers, the funeral was simply yet another daily monument to what a terrible president and human being Donald Trump is. Sitting in the front row of the funeral, cynics abounded in the cyber-media and at the Post to suggest that it was all an elaborate plot by the Bush family to poke President Trump in the eye. Commentators took turns offering "body language interpretations" as Obama and Clinton family members supposedly were getting a dig in on President Trump. Milbank noted that close Bush friend Brian Mulroney was definitely mounting serious slams on President Trump when he commended NAFTA as a great achievement by President Bush. Milbank interpreted this as a hit on Trump's criticisms of NAFTA. Milbank and the Post account deliberately missed the sentence of the eulogy that commended "recently modernized and improved by new administrations" – a line meant to honor President Trump's revision of the deal. More importantly, omitted from Milbank's account was former senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson's extensive critique of the media's obsession with misrepresenting the Bush family and associated Republicans. The media were clearly a profound emotional foil in Simpson's eloquent remembrance of his friend – George H.W. Bush. Simpson mocked the media for ridiculous misrepresentations of a man who went from 93% approval to near 30% approval as president. The surrounding lessons of Bush's passing are profound and offer the broader public insights into the hyper-cynical serpentine commentary class that deprives us all of greater governance. The standing tall World War II veteran Senator Bob Dole straining to dignify the memory of his friend as he was helped to his feet by an aide to offer one last salute was an overwhelming testament of character that we lack in 21st-century politics. The mood and message of Bush's passing were a more moral amplification of the themes primitively examined in the recent funeral of John McCain. One cannot help but think of how we were all deprived of the further presidential leadership of three great war heroes: Bush Sr., Dole, and McCain. All three men were ushered away from the presidency by cynical media circuses that we see again this week. The media pretend to adore these three men when we all know they were unfairly savaged by this same media professing faux respect and honor in this necessary epideictic moment.
The Bush family was not trying to construct an elaborate rhetorical slap to the face of President Trump. That would be antithetical to the nature of this blessed family. I was pleased to have President George W. Bush in one of my communication classes this past week in Dallas at SMU. When asked by a student what his greatest accomplishment as president was, he said: "My wife and I and our two daughters – we all loved one another when the eight years were done." He further told students that "to be a good father" was the greatest task anyone could direct himself to as an individual. This was only three days before his dad would pass away.
The Bush family was not trying to make a painful cynical point against President Trump at the funeral. The arrangement of Donald and Melania Trump next to Michelle and Barack Obama along with the Clintons and Jimmy Carter was a gentle lesson in civics offered one last time by the great leader, George H.W. Bush.
Our nation is bigger than our political differences. The Bush family is an enduring testament to the variety of values that surpass the importance of partisan politics: patriotism, faith in God, love of family, and public service. The eulogies, the ceremony, and the placement of guests all pointed to a nation trying to free itself from the bitter partisanship that spirals tighter and tighter around D.C. That serpentine coil is choking the nation itself, as revealed in a CDC report that found that American life expectancy had declined three years in a row for the first time in 100 years.
We the people must throw off these false prophets who offer another pandering attack on a Republican president who supposedly "hates America and the world" – like every Republican president since Nixon. Simpson had the clever rejoinder to this poisonous culture that envelops the Capitol: "those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic." The arrogance of our master interpreters must be broken by a willful sense of sacrifice that directs public attention away from spectacle and toward great service. Thank you, President George H.W. Bush, for your incredible acts of service to this nation.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor and director of debate at Southern Methodist University. He is an adviser for the Bush Center and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation debate fellow. He has published three recent books on the power of communication and argument.