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Presidents club assembles for Bush

China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-06 09:12
Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush pause in front of the flag-draped casket of former president George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the Capitol's Rotunda in Washington on Tuesday. [PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Former leader's memorial service to hark back to 'kinder, gentler' era in US politics

WASHINGTON - The death of George H.W. Bush is bringing together the five remaining members of an oh-so-exclusive fraternity - the US presidents club. But for President Donald Trump, it may not be an entirely comfortable reunion, throwing him together with former occupants of the Oval Office who have given him decidedly mixed reviews.

Wednesday's state funeral for the late president was expected to be attended by "formers" Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The last time they were together with Trump was at his inauguration in 2017. Recalling the funerals for Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, they will all sit together in Washington National Cathedral, with the exception of the younger Bush, who will be seated nearby with his family.

The memorial service would display an unusual bipartisan spirit, with both Republican and Democratic politicians gathering to hail the life of a president who called for a "kinder, gentler" nation.

Those who have occupied the Oval Office share an unparalleled experience that typically builds a special camaraderie. And by virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye.

But since taking office, Trump has had little contact with his predecessors. He has not spoken to Democrats Clinton or Obama since his inauguration. He did speak with the younger Bush during the contentious confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as the previous Republican president helped lobby for his former aide. Democrat Carter has been briefed by White House officials on recent negotiations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, though it was not clear if he has engaged directly with Trump.

Trump has sought to meet the elder Bush's passing with grace, a contrast to the rhythms of much of his presidency. He came to office after a campaign in which he harshly criticized his Democratic predecessors and co-opted a Republican Party once dominated by the Bush family. Despite the traditional kinship among presidents, Trump's predecessors have all made their discomfort known in different ways.

"It's unusual that a cabal of ex-presidents from both parties dislike a sitting president and that's what you've got happening right now," said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University.

Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said. "Bill Clinton would reach out to Richard Nixon for advice on Russia," he said. "Harry Truman leaned heavily on Herbert Hoover. It's endless."

However, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that "FDR would never talk to Herbert Hoover".

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