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Former presidents set aside divisions for Bush state funeral

December 06, 2018

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WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump with former president Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton during the state funeral for president George H.W. Bush.—Reuters
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump with former president Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton during the state funeral for president George H.W. Bush.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: A divi­ded Washington led by the nation’s five living presidents put on a show of unity Wednesday at the poignant state funeral of George H.W. Bush, as America bade farewell to its 41st president.

Donald and Melania Trump shared a front row pew at Washington National Cathedral with past presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives as an honor guard brought Bush’s flag-draped casket into the packed prayer hall.

George W. Bush delivered a rousing and deeply personal eulogy — at times punctuated by laughter — as he sang the praises of his father and predecessor as commander-in-chief, who died on Friday at age 94.

“He was born with just two settings — full throttle, then sleep,” Bush said. “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light,” he added in reference to his father’s signature call to volunteerism. “When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States.”

Wednesday’s state funeral caps a day-long homage that saw Bush lie in state for two days in the US Capitol rotunda.

Since Bush’s death, Trump has traded his usual provocative posture for one of res­pect and solemnity, tweeting before heading to the cathedral about “a day of celebration for a great man”. But while the service allowed Washington to hit pause on the toxic rhetoric that has engulfed the country’s politics, Trump and his Demo­cratic predecessors ap­­­­­­­peared locked in an uneasy truce as it got underway.

Trump arrived and pro­m­ptly shook hands with Oba­ma and former first lady Mi­­chelle Obama. But his greetings stopped there, as he failed to ac­­knowledge Hil­lary Clinton, his defea­ted Democratic rival in 2016.

Clinton sat stone faced, looking straight ahead, and the pair did not make eye contact.

Other dignitaries in the cathedral included Britain’s Prince Charles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Polish president Lech Walesa, former vice presidents Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Joe Biden, and former secretaries of state James Baker, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Wednesday was a day of precision, patriotic ritual, and ceremony. George W. Bush and wife Laura stood stoically outside the US Capitol as an honor guard carried his father’s flag-draped casket to the hearse.

Trump declared on Wednesday a national day of mourning. Many federal offices are closed along with Wall Street stock markets.

Congress also suspended votes — even in the midst of a looming potential shutdown that requires congressional action before midnight Friday.

After the Washington service, Bush’s casket will be flown back to Houston. The former head of state will lie in repose at St Martin’s Epis­copal Church, where the Bu­­shes worshipped for decad­es, until Thursday’s funeral.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018

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