A Funeral for WASP America
So, yes, apart from Lee Atwater and the Willie Horton mis-adventure, George H.W. Bush was a great guy. Oh yeah, and the Iran-Contra thing. Well never mind.
But all this stately veneration? What in the world is going on?
For three nights in a row the PBS “Newshour” has devoted fully half the program to Bush memorials, reminiscences and tributes. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but I don’t remember anything nearly so extravagant even for the Gipper, Ronald Reagan.
Well, there is the dark Trump mirror, which makes all other stars shine brighter. But beyond that . . .
We’re grieving. In Trump World, a courser and harsher America, we are grieving.
We were so caught up on Clinton psychodramas, 9/11 and Bush 43 disasters and Obamaesque-“hope and change,” that we never stopped to grieve, to grieve the passing of White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant America and all that it represented. Until now.
George H. W. Bush was White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America incarnate. New England, Prep School, Ivy League.
He was its best — self-effacing, wry humor; an ethic of service; being married once and sticking with it; actually serving in the military instead of just making bellicose noises, kindness to opponents. And its worst — playing the race card when the chips were down, greasing the skids for junior who never had the chops for the job and slid through Yale on his name.
In the strange age of Trump, we are grieving for a lost world, a lost America.
Hence the extraordinary, extended drama of the Bush death, lying in state, funeral with full national colors and Episcopalian regalia. Really, it was lovely. My goodness — all fifteen screens at the Ballard Athletic Club were trained on the funeral. Tough luck for the “Price Is Right” fans!
And it was all a not very subtle commentary on the present mis-begotten occupant of the White House, he of the strange orange coiffure.
Which all raises a question about which I’ve been wondering. Is our real problem with Trump that he is just such an embarrassment? Do we only want someone who is a more satisfying, more gratifying representation of our collective ego than Agent Orange? Instead, we have a shady wheeler-dealer — who just may be the truth about us.
Only part of the truth about us. George H.W. Bush, noble and self-effacing is/ was another part of the truth about us. We are complex, we Americans.
Let’s be honest. We are Trump. America has a vicious, mendacious and self-serving side, a dark Trumpian-side. We do.
But that’s not the whole story. We are also JFK’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” We are also George H.W. Bush’s longed for “kindler and gentler America,” and “thousand points of light.”
George H. W. Bush’s deeply-felt, extended memorial was for more than the man. It was a funeral for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America and the men who ran it. We miss them. We hate them. We love them.
Now, we in are uncharted territory.
Can we go back? No. Nor should we.
But we can re-capture and re-energize some of the very best of WASP America in a new incarnation, one that isn’t so white, nor so Anglo-Saxon, not so solely Protestant, or finally so male.
We can take forward, I pray, the best — service, self-sacrifice, restraint, kindness and decency in an America that is all races, male and female, and many faiths.