President Donald Trump declared Wednesday a national day of mourning in honor of the celebration of the life of George H.W. Bush, our nation’s 41st president. For this writer, it was a dual day of mourning.
In addition to the obvious mourning of a public servant who devoted a great deal of his life of 94 years to the service of others, for me, it was also a day to mourn the loss of civility in America, something that I believe Bush championed in his honorable life.
I’ve shared this memory in this space before, but I believe it is appropriate to share on this occasion. In November 1992, some 26 years ago, I was just 29 years old and full of much more passion (dare I say vim and vigor?) than I am today at the age of 55. As a result of that passion, I was very emotionally involved in the presidential election that year.
Still, these 26 years later, I have to select my words carefully when I say this, in order to fulfill the civility that I am championing in this column. Let me just say, I did not want Bill Clinton to defeat George H.W. Bush in the presidential election. And, just as was the case in this past presidential election, I certainly did not want Hillary Clinton in the White House. I look forward to our nation’s first female president, I just didn’t want it to be Hillary.
So, needless to say, I was devastated when Bill Clinton won the election. As a naive, young adult, I thought the sky was falling and the world as I knew it was coming to an end. But, my attitude took a complete 180-degree turn during the transition between the Bush presidency and the Clinton presidency. I will never forget the grace showed by George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara as they welcomed the Clinton’s to the White House. Not only were their actions honorable in those specific moments, but throughout the transition Bush served as a tremendous leader in showing us what it means to be a civil member of a democratic society. It was such a sharp contrast to what transpired in our last presidential election.
A much lighter note, but also one that made an impact on me, was how Bush handled the obligatory impersonations of him offered by the iconic television show Saturday Night Live. For those not familiar with the Saturday late night program, a weekly staple for many Americans since it premiered in 1975, during each presidency, the show finds one member of its cast to offer continual parodies of the president. During Bush’s term, that role was performed by the actor Dana Carvey, whose portrayal of the president wasn’t malicious in tone, but it certainly wasn’t always flattering. Unlike other presidents over the years, Bush received Carvey’s antics with the humility and humor that he displayed throughout his life. In fact, at one point before he left office, Bush and his wife hosted Carvey for a stay at the White House and praised the comedic actor for the way he handled the role.
I believe Bush also showed his incredible civility and grace in his post presidency. After they were each out of office, former presidents Bush and Clinton joined together to form a strong friendship to accomplish many things in service of others. In fact, Clinton was quoted by NBC News as saying his friendship with Bush was “one of the greatest joys of (his) life.’’
The family of George H.W. Bush did their best to honor the legacy of their patriarch. They went to great lengths to not only include President Trump in the celebration of Bush’s life but they also did everything in their power to prevent any of the participants from exploiting the occasion to “play politics” and use the time to make statements about our current president, even though the Bush family have a history of tension with Trump.
I’m not going to start a discussion, or participate in an argument about who is responsible for our current lack of civility in this country. But, it is my belief that we all can receive a much-needed reminder from Bush as to how we are to treat one another in a democratic society.
I for one will forever mourn the life of our 41st president. Argue if you wish as to what he did or did not do for our country, but I will say he made a tremendous impact on me and my life by showing humility and grace at times when it may not be easy to do so.