“America’s last, great soldier-statesman”

I choked up, too — for the decent and honorable leadership, now missing, that reflects the true greatness of America.

Dana Milbank

• • •

Jon Meacham, historian and biographer of George Herbert Walker Bush, spoke at his memorial service on Wednesday and said, “He stood in the breach of the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship. On his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand.”

Meacham called Bush, “America’s last, great soldier-statesman, a 20th century founding father,” in the tradition of U.S. presidents who believed in causes larger than themselves.

“An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.”

When listening to some clips of President Bush today on a radio retrospective, I heard again the following excerpt from his 1991 State of the Union speech, and tears came to my eyes. Not only was I inspired once more by the simple and uniquely American conservative yet communitarian vision he eloquently communicated, but my heart also grieved deeply, knowing that those who claim to lead us today rarely inspire us like this.

Why have our leaders abandoned prioritizing and proclaiming these ideals? Where is the appeal to the “better angels of our nature?” This call to live and serve one another together in the light of a greater purpose? This call for the strong to raise up the weak and give them the opportunity to share in America’s dreams?

Drink in these remarkable words again…

If anyone tells you America’s best days are behind her, they’re looking the wrong way.

Tonight, I come before this house, and the American people, with an appeal for renewal. This is not merely a call for new government initiatives, it is a call for new initiative in government, in our communities, and from every American – to prepare for the next American century.

America has always led by example. So who among us will set this example? Which of our citizens will lead us in this next American century? Everyone who steps forward today, to get one addict off drugs; to convince one troubled teen-ager not to give up on life; to comfort one AIDS patient; to help one hungry child.

We have within our reach the promise of renewed America. We can find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves – a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light. It is expressed by all who know the irresistible force of a child’s hand, of a friend who stands by you and stays there – a volunteer’s generous gesture, an idea that is simply right.

The problems before us may be different, but the key to solving them remains the same: it is the individual – the individual who steps forward. And the state of our Union is the union of each of us, one to the other: the sum of our friendships, marriages, families and communities.

We all have something to give. So if you know how to read, find someone who can’t. If you’ve got a hammer, find a nail. If you’re not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble – seek out someone who is.

Join the community of conscience. Do the hard work of freedom. That will define the state of our Union.

President George H.W. Bush, 1991

Stunning, in the light of today’s debased political atmosphere. The contrast is so stark it should be obvious to anyone paying attention.

I did not always agree with President Bush, and I would even say he is responsible for some bad, even shameful things (Willie Horton, anyone?), but the basic decency and humanity of this man cannot be called into questio. In character, experience, genuine patriotism, statesmanship, and demeanor, he was everything we are lacking now in a POTUS and in other governmental officials.

This is the moderation, the gentle good humor, the generosity and kindness balanced with conviction and battle-tested toughness that we so need today. This is the wisdom of someone grounded in family, community, and public service that we lack in so many of our current so-called “leaders.” Unfortunately, his friend Alan Simpson was correct when he quipped, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

Every sentence eulogizing President Bush at his memorial service was a stinging rebuke to today’s politicians, most of whom are unworthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as GHWB.

His son George W. paid him the highest tribute: “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”

Oh, and by the way, today is December 7, when we remember Pearl Harbor.

Will anyone step up in the years to come like Mr. Bush and his peers did during and after that horrific conflict, earning the right to be called “the greatest generation?”

You want to “make America great?”

Give us more people like this.

53 thoughts on ““America’s last, great soldier-statesman”

  1. The ever astute President D.J. Trump was just keeping the Jefferson wall of separation between church and state at the funeral. As the learned Constitutional scholar that he is President Trump knew he was there in his official capacity as President of all the people. The ever sensitive President Donald J. Trump would not endorse any religious group despite his own deeply held religious beliefs. You would think the ACLU and the usually anti Christian media would be happy that we have a President that upholds the separation of church and state. President Trump knows that the proper place for religious observance is on the campaign trail.

    I do think that President Trump is leading a lot of people to faith, they are praying that he gets impeached. What a genius is #45, and the Democrats just want to say “you’re fired”. Also when trying to explain Trump policies many say ” God Knows” what it is, that again is the genius of YWW, the name above all establishment Republican politicians .


  2. Thank you for this post, Chaplain Mike. You mentioned “the greatest generation”. My father and two uncles served in WW II (one uncle is still living). I don’t remember any of them ever talking about it much. Regardless of his policies and politics, George H. W. Bush deserves our respect as a person. I hope we have not become so cynical we cannot admire and honor a good person simply for being a good person.


  3. I was afraid you were going down the route of suggesting a White ethnostate; you backed off, I think, but that would seem to be your preferred solution, though you don’t think it’s practicable for the American situation.


  4. The short answer is ‘yes’ to all the above,
    The long answer is more nuanced, but still ‘yes’ in essence.


  5. Really?

    I won’t ask how you see the Southern Strategy as being racist, but I wonder about the possible implications.

    Are you saying that:
    1) Republicans are racists?
    2) Southerners are racists?
    3) Southerners that vote Republican are racist?
    4) All of the above.


  6. I heard no reference in the massive media coverage anywhere of the effect of Ross Perot on the 1992 election. Perot got 19 million votes which was 19%, H.W. Bush got 39 million votes and Clinton got 45 million and won big in electoral college because of Perot. The majority of Perot voters would have voted for Bush or not voted. Perot was 1990’s Trump in many ways but too nutty.

    As someone whose retired parents were fanatical Perotistas (and spent my last visit in ’92 Witnessing to me to AcceptRossPerotAsYourPersonalLORDandSavior), I concur.

    Perot’s background was similar to Trump’s: A billionaire who out of nowhere decided to get into politics and immediately run for President as an Outsider (with the usual result for a Me-for-President Third Party run). His style was very different, more like Obama’s “HopeChange” — come across as the Grandfatherly Type who has all the answers (but never get pinned down on any of them, “Just Trust Me”); let the desperate “base” project their longings for a Savior Who Will Make Everything Perfect onto you. Classic Messiah politics.

    The guy who was his campaign manager (and constantly getting overruled by The Messianic One) wrote his memoirs entitled “Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms” (search Amazon for the title). In it, he describes Perot much like a less in-your-face Donald Trump — a very Autocratic Boss (with an Autocratic Corporate Culture) who listens only to Himself and who Always Knows Best. He predicted that if Perot hadn’t crashed and burned but got elected, “He would be at War with Congress from Day One”, to the point it wouldn’t have surprised him if the first time Congress opposed Perot, he would call in the Army as Commander-in-Chief and pull a “YOU’RE FIRED!” to all Congress at the point of their bayonets. His conclusion was it was a good thing that Perot lost.

    But Perot was able to inspire Total Fanatical Loyalty in at least a part of his base; I know my parents treated him like the Second Coming of Christ, “The Word Made Flesh”, and that they projected their own ideas of How He Would Fix Everything into his vague “Just Trust Me”. My parents were crushed when their Savoir crashed and burned in the later part of the campaign, but did not show any signs of Vast Conspiracy Theory explanation.


  7. Even CT recently cited a survey that says something like 60 or 70 percent of evangelicals think Jesus is God’s first and greatest creation.

    Just like Arius and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


  8. Bill Clinton was also a skilled political campaigner and had Charisma. In one D&D website, he was the type example of D&D Charisma: “Even when you KNOW he’s a crook, it’s impossible NOT to like the guy!”


  9. While I voted for Bush and would again, I didn’t esteem him as one of the greats at the time. Now however it is as much, if not more, the character of the man that is being given tribute as opposed to any successful political agendas. All of that praise rings very true to me. That is what gave substance to his presidency and that is missing in our day. It matters so much and is so critically important to our standing in the world but it has been dropped by the wayside as so much mushy sentimentality. Self serving, egotist leaders are worked with or worked around but are never respected, hence very little long term positivity ever results from their work but the negativity can impact generations.


  10. Thank you. That was my goal.

    It seems to me that GHWB’s generation had an instinctual understanding of civic life and duty that is for a number of reasons difficult for us to emulate today. I would not start with the state. As Midwesterners we instinctively think of the United States of America as it was presented to us in Elementary school, whereas the mutation of the United States of America into Panurge was already well-advanced and accelerated by that time.

    If relearning civic life and duty means a greater participation in Panurge and a furtherance of its purposes, I’m afraid I’ll have to withdraw my pinch of incense to the geniuses of Tony Blair/Hillary Clinton/the Presidio Institute/Angela Merkel/Emmanuel Macron.

    I don’t know if Panurge can be Christianized. You are certainly welcome to try, and the upsurge in Christianity in China (which Panurge working under the guise of the Chinese Communist Party certainly opposes) is a good augur. The Christians under Diocletian probably had similar reservations about the Empire, but 30 years later everything changed.


  11. The correlation of their economic policies to data.

    That score is pretty darn low for all modern presidents, but Reagan was certainly the worst until the current fellow who is . . . incalculable?

    Most historian rankings aren’t much more than a poll of historians. I don’t put anymore stock in that than I would a poll of Theologians.


  12. I believe in Canada, there was more diversity tolerated for languages, cultures, ethnic groups; but in the States, there always seemed to be a push to assimilate . . . public education helped the process . . . . but by the third generation, it was assumed that a family would ‘fit in’ and sadly, much in the way of cultural heritage from the older generations of an immigrant family did not survive the assimilation.


  13. Yes, I am. The role and suffering of African Americans is distinct from the experience of any European Americans and needs to be addressed separately. How justice can be administered to this population is beyond my wisdom. Assimilation seems unlikely, and a Pakistan/India solution would be dreadful. For better or for worse, we are conjoined in a way unlike other mixtures of African and European populations in this hemisphere.

    I am in favor of reparations, and I put my money where my mouth is. 10% of my negligible income goes to charity, and about half of that goes to groups whose constituency is African-American, as they are my physical neighbors. I do not use this as an excuse not to call myself racist. I own that epiphet if not gladly at least not with denial.


  14. Yeah, Evangelical does not necessarily mean Christian anymore. Even CT recently cited a survey that says something like 60 or 70 percent of evangelicals think Jesus is God’s first and greatest creation.

    So, heresy and idolatry.

    Glad I’m not in that world anymore.


  15. Mule, these comments have set me thinking, and I hope to post an overview of my perspective on civil government and its tasks in days to come. It seems to me that GHWB’s generation had a much different understanding of civic life and duty than is being promulgated today — and that matters.


  16. Even though I am no fan of Bill Clinton, I still think that, when considering the great contrast, we are talking about a different animal. Bill Clinton was a politician, a sleazy politician. But he was also a gifted politician and was able to work within the system to do a lot of effective governing as president. The current occupant of the White House is and has been for 40 years nothing more than a celebrity wannabe, with no roots either in personal decency or public service. With all his flaws, at least Clinton had some concept of public service. With our current public leadership we have abandoned all sense of anything but raw power.


  17. Are you discounting the experience of Black Americans, who were a large number of Americans and here from nearly the beginning, but certainly were not homogenized into White culture, and whose experience, though it obviously overlapped with the White American experience, was distinctly different and alienated from the main White American narrative?


  18. Prior to 1965, when most immigration was from Europe.

    This is not to say there were no strains when the Irish, the Eastern and Southern Europeans supplanted the original North Sea colonists. Also, assimilation was prized more highly than currently, where it is derided in academia as cultural imperialism.

    It is also a mistake to think that ‘we got over it’. We didn’t. We changed. We were not the same nation in 1910 that we were in 1845. We will do so again, even if we huff and puff to incorporate muzzeins, MS-13, joss houses, and Diwali, but the result is more likely to be Miami than it is to be Barney and Friends or Glee.


  19. I laughed at what one tweeter tweeted: You Know Who doesn’t know the Apostles Creed from Apollo Creed.

    Same is true in much of evangelical world, however.


  20. I see people in the media expressing surprise at how loved You Know Who is on the religious Right, when he doesn’t even recite the Creed or sing the hymns like his presidential colleagues did at Bush Sr.’s funeral. What they don’t seem to know is that most of the religious Right supporters of You Know Who don’t recite the Creed or sing hymns at their worship services either, especially the megachurches. Disconnect between mainstream media and the religious Right in this country is so vast and deep that the MSM doesn’t really know what happens in evangelical churches.


  21. If you want a return to simple civic decency, I believe that would require a return to the cultural homogeneity that formerly obtained in our Republic, when people of similar backgrounds and experiences could more instinctively forge a bond of trust and respect.

    I wonder if you could bracket a time frame when that vaunted and lamented cultural homogeneity obtained in our Republic…. would you, please?


  22. It is easy to overlook how organic the development of ethics and laws is, not altogether unlike the origins and development of life, and in fact hand-in-hand with biological development. A lot of evolution is involved, and in evolution, it’s often hard, or impossible, to find and define what is the beginning. This is a lesson that has been hard for me to learn, but I’m finally catching on.


  23. > It seems like a chicken/egg conundrum to me

    Easily resolved: (t==0) => false.

    It is a feedback loop with no beginning.


  24. > My question is simpler – when are we going to start once again honoring people for their basic decency

    21st century technology eliminates the potential for a Leader to say one thing on the stump and another thing in the office. The camera is always on, always broadcasting.

    So, I believe we will return to that era only when the 21st century technological web collapses – thus creating space again for that duality.

    Back on the stump such courtesy has never existed.

    It is much like formal or King’s English vs Common Speech. An – in many ways virtuous – distinction which struggles to exist in a deeply interconnected world.


  25. 1) But where did the nation’s laws and ethics come from — people in the nation’s history, or historic background, no? It seems like a chicken/egg conundrum to me. One thing we know for sure: nations’ laws and ethics don’t drop down from Heaven at God’s command.

    2) Couldn’t agree more with Matthew Chapman.


  26. Bush wasn’t perfect and I didn’t agree with a lot of his policies, but there is no doubt he was a humble and basically decent person who was willing to work with and talk to those who saw things differently, and who saw purposes that were larger than himself or any one person.

    So was Obama. So are a lot of people in public service, even now.In fact, just about any decent, committed and hard working public servant serves as a stark contrast to trump and his sycophants. But the decent people don’t get much chance to act and change things in today’s toxic environment; in fact, they’re often targeted.

    And the fact that more than any other single demographic white evangelicals are responsible from trump’s ascent and continued support is just staggeringly appalling. The damage that has done to the nation, and to the church and its witness, will both take a very long time to repair.


  27. I think that answering the question I posed in my fifth paragraph would enable us to address your primary concern. The problem is that we all benefit from our participation in Panurge and we are addicted to the endorphins he releases into our body politic.

    If you want a return to simple civic decency, I believe that would require a return to the cultural homogeneity that formerly obtained in our Republic, when people of similar backgrounds and experiences could more instinctively forge a bond of trust and respect. Extending this canopy over the widening diversity of groups who populate our geographical landspace is an exercise in Trinitarian sociology, as it is the doctrine and communion of the Trinity which alone can address the concerns of unity-in-diversity. Yet we are not a Christian Empire like Rome, Russia, or even Britain, and cannot openly confess the Holy Trinity. To do what we are currently attempting with strictly civic resources can lead only to ruthless authoritarianism, which is (link in Spanish, unfortunately) the true face behind Panurge, or atomization.

    Maybe both.

    If I’m crazy, tell me to my face. If I’m not, address my concern.

    PS – Thanks for fixing the posting issue.


  28. > and foremost for the common good, and only second for his party.

    Unless one considers his full embrace of The Southern Strategy with its nakedly racist approach.

    There is a clear line from then to now.


  29. I heard no reference in the massive media coverage anywhere of the effect of Ross Perot on the 1992 election. Perot got 19 million votes which was 19%, H.W. Bush got 39 million votes and Clinton got 45 million and won big in electoral college because of Perot. The majority of Perot voters would have voted for Bush or not voted. Perot was 1990’s Trump in many ways but too nutty.

    I find it relevant and predictable that the reporting and opinion pieces on H.W. Bush directly or strongly alluded to the character of You Know Who and was a starting point for trotting out the flaws of YWW, you know who, while never mentioning the most obvious analogy , the character of the person who beat HW Bush in 1992. I believe the info I mentioned above should have been a part of the conversation .

    My point is H.W. Bush was beat by B. Clinton who was for sure a self proclaimed draft dodger, a serial womanizer, an adultery specialist, a liar to the people of Ark. and had shady business dealings. I find it odd but not surprising that Clinton that directly succeeded and beat Bush is not mentioned for his character flaws. How about not past but conduct in office if we are going to hold up the mirror of personal moral behavior? How about, I did not have sex with that woman and etc. No forget the man that really lowered the bar of public moral standards for the President and go to the real target , Trump the Chump,, who does not tow the elite establishment line.

    As H.W. Bush had his long time affair with a Jennifer, who moved around with Bush in government jobs, the Bush campaign had to tip toe about the beautiful Gennifer Flowers/Clinton affair. I almost voted for Clinton because of G. Flowers as she was super hot and I was/am super shallow. By far she was the best of the “known” Clinton babes. Clinton always said JFK was his hero and they both loved the ladies. I think JFK had “encounters” with most of the 50’s and 60’s hottest female stars, for sure Clinton’s hero. YWW for the most part does “encounter” great looking women as did JFK, so Clinton ought to like that.

    I think that H.W. Bush was a very good President, voted twice for him, great American hero of WW2 and did much for this country. He deserves praise and respect. I also think that the massive over the top coverage, as it was with McCain is much to do with YWW.

    It is like saintly Mother Teresa who died the same day Princess Diana got killed. Mother Teresa was a footnote in reporting . G.H. Bush would have been given some respect and coverage in the media but anti YWW, elevated his stock highly

    America like ancient Greece changed the world by being the country and culture that people respect and admire. George H. Bush was a product of his time and is an reminder of how every social strata of America felt a love and respect for the USA. He is the last President from a great generation and his life was well spent.


  30. > I can hardly listen to it.

    I get that; I’ve also tuned it out to the degree possible. My home was particularly savaged economically by his policies, essentially a continuation of his predecessors policies [who, up until 2016 I would have named to be the worst modern president].

    > But as far admiration of the man goes …

    I get it. And you are right that this is as much a funeral as it is a exercise in not talk talking about what we all fear. There is a Watership Down feel to it all. 😦


  31. Here is a problem for me: if You Know Who wasn’t president at the moment, many people who are speaking so positively about Bush Sr. would not be doing so. There is a measure of political opportunism in their positive eulogies and compliments that has nothing to do with recognition of his ostensible basic decency (does anybody remember Willie Horton – has the Current Occupant done anything worse for racial relations in this country than the damage done by that campaign ad? Maybe he has, but that ad was a harbinger of things to come that we’ve seen realized by the Current Occupant in the last couple years, and was of the same exact quality, cut from the same cloth as many of You Know Who’s public utterances), which they never recognized before, and won’t remember or recognize in a few years, if not a few months. I see the public posturing of many newfound Bush Sr. admirers as politically motivated, not sincere, and I see it as part of the problem rather than remedy to it. It doesn’t seem like recognition of political decency to me; it seems cynical and opportunistic.


  32. Robert F, excellent essays!
    Two quotes I’ve heard recently have stuck with me:
    “The morality of a people is the RESULT of its nations laws and ethics – not the opposite.”
    (In other words, the way a government is set up determines whether its people will act morally and responsibly.)
    Or to put it another way, all citizens – especially the powerful – will live down to what is allowed, and live up to what is required.
    As we see around us today.
    2. In response to “What if I told you America was founded by WASPs?”
    “What if I told you the only reason [the United States] got a foot in the door in the world economy was they kidnapped a bunch of black people and forced them to work for free?”
    – Matthew Chapman @fawfulfan


  33. I don’t carry criticisms of Bush Sr and/or his Administration any further. But I’m unable to feel the idealization of him or what he did that is expected during the time of national mourning his death; I can hardly listen to it. Later on, I’m sure the knives will come out again, and the book length criticisms, with people who are idealizing him now (mostly in comparison with You Know Who — if You Know Who wasn’t president, many people saying glowing things about Bush Sr. right at the moment would not be saying them) dissecting him with academic and not-so-academic precision, but you won’t find me wielding one of those knives either, or doing the dissection. But as far admiration of the man goes, I don’t feel it; never did, and don’t now, despite You Know Who.


  34. Mule, I think that’s outside the bounds of this discussion. My question is simpler — when are we going to start once again honoring people for their basic decency, and when are our elected representatives going to abandon their lust for power and winning for their side at all costs so as to encourage this basic decency in all aspects of our national life?


  35. I think GHWB would agree with you. It seems to me that people of his generation did not just think of autonomous “individuals” but of individuals enmeshed in communities. Note what he says in the speech — “the state of our Union is the union of each of us, one to the other: the sum of our friendships, marriages, families and communities.”


  36. If RobertF gets to empty his psychic bowels here, I claim the same right.

    5th century BC Athens was cut from the same cloth as were we. A democracy for her own citizens fortunate enough to be born in her, Athens supported a far flung and prosperous commercial empire by exporting dictatorial tyrannies to her vassals, and by waging almost constant war to supress dissension.

    Yet she also produced Aeschylus, Euripides, Herodotus, Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, Phidias, and Simonides, a brilliance which has not been surpassed by any other population of comparable size in history. She also went from Pericles to Alcibiades in a single generation.

    No one is debating that the lizard currently occupying the White House is a jewel, even compared to the deeply flawed George H. W. Bush, but we have been here before. He may even be considered almost statesmanlike in contrast to some of the other occupants. We just can’t make a habit of having three bad presidents in a row, especially if they’re going to serve full eight year terms.

    But we do have to decide whether we are a nation, with a common life distinct from that of other nations, or whether we are the fiscal and military arm of the Global Pansexual Egalitarian-but-Regulatory Union, or Panurge for short.

    Just naming the devil makes me feel better.


  37. > Reinhold Niebuhr wrote somewhere that it’s not possible for a nation-state to be as ethical
    > as an individual citizen of that nation-state;

    Ok, but if one acknowledges this as true isn’t one in turn holding leaders to an impossible standard? And, in Christian terms, an standard devoid of Charity?

    I will be at the front of the line saying that by taking the mantle of Leader one does accept that one will be judged by a higher standard than those “ordinary people” [stay off the stage and nobody will shine lights on you].

    However, there should be a concomitant greater Mercy available to Leaders at some point. And if not Death, then when? Leaders always inherit existing systems, and Leaders will always face Impossible Choices, where criticism can be justly leveled against choosing any option. Yet choosing is exactly the Leader’s task. The world very rarely presents a tidy, perfectly mediated, center path. In nearly all cases all available options will be fraught.

    Whatever criticisms I had with Bush Sr and/or his Administration; there is not any point in carrying it further. At some point people need to lay things down.

    If I have discomfort with this narrative it with the perspective that Civility , or lack of it, is the problem. I am pro-civility. Yet Civility can be the single most effective weapon in the defense of the Status Quo and its attendant evils – – – this current situation has been under careful and deliberate construction for a long time, obscured from view by the civility which is being lauded from many corners.


  38. “The only greatness of any nation is the human greatness of its ordinary people.”

    Is that not the essential point of the speech I quoted? That is part of the essence of the American ideal. My lament is that leaders today are more about themselves and their power than about inspiring us to this ideal.


  39. It does feel like Bush was a politician who stood first and foremost for the common good, and only second for his party. Back then the two parties might have disagreed on the best way to bring about the common good, but at least we expected that both parties would work together toward that goal.

    On the other hand, when Bush said that “the individual” is the solution to all our problems, in many ways that was a foreshadowing of the problems our country has now. I would say that our strength lies not in isolated individuals doing good, but in strong communities, and the breakdown of those communities – families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, government, etc. – is the source of a lot of our social problems. Private philanthropy is never going to fix everything. The problems that Bush cites – drug addiction, troubled youth, public health, hunger – are large enough that they could never be addressed without the involvement of a government that is working for the common good.


  40. The only greatness of any nation is the human greatness of its ordinary people. I don’t have faith in the fundamental goodness of our leaders. If memorial/funeral services are a time when eulogists are expected to lie about and flatter the deceased, for the sake of comforting grief-stricken family and friends, and not speaking ill of the dead, far more lies are told about leaders in eulogy than are told about the average person, and not just for the usual reasons, but also to preserve the national illusions of the public audience. But the fact is that most national heads of state are responsible for the deaths of multiple, sometimes many people, some of them quite innocent, in war and covert operations; our presidents are no exception. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote somewhere that it’s not possible for a nation-state to be as ethical as an individual citizen of that nation-state; that is also true of the leaders of nation-states: it’s not possible for them to be as ethical as the people they lead. And it is the goodness of those ordinary people that constitutes the only real national greatness of a country, when greatness is not defined by the possession and exercise of brute power, however prettied-up.


  41. I’m just not feeling the mythology of American greatness, not now, not in the past. America has certainly been powerful, and affluent, and the two in combination with the accident of a liberalized European political and social legacy have made it possible for our domestic situation to grow more open, tolerant, and focused on the rights of the individual, many more of those individuals, vis a vis the state/society than any previously existing society. But we’ve bought that domestic situation of freedom for the individual at the price of almost constant war, overt and covert, in defense of the exploitation of other people’s resources around the world. I think our idealized historical narratives have involved more than the average amount of lying about our history, involving the idea that our good fortune has been, on balance, the result of being good as a nation and people; we are great liars. But whatever capital our fortunate legacy has left us has been spent, and we are now in arrears, and borrowing against a past greatness that it is increasingly apparent never existed, borrowing against an illusion. We are seeing through our own lies; we are seeing what great liars we have been, and how pathetically we lie in comparison with the greatness of our past lying; and our lying chickens have come home to roost. The lies become more outrageous every day, and more desperate, because we are outrageous and desperate to believe in the greatness of our past, and thereby our present, even though we don’t. No, I’m just not feeling the mythology of American greatness, and the dignified and ceremonious state funeral for a former president who served at the twilight of our ability to pump our past, and thereby our present and future, with believable and not incredible sounding lies is not helping me. I’m seeing the Man Behind the Curtain; if only he were as likable as Oz. “America….I could almost love you again.”


  42. The ‘contrast’, yes.
    the decency, the patriotism, the strong character, the kindness . . . . . . the contrast was and is, so unavoidably stark.

    if nothing more, the funerals of John McCain and George H.W. Bush (41) teach our young that such leaders were once among us

    comes to mind the Arthurian legend of a ‘once and future king’ to come to serve in a time of great need . . .

    and also some hope that, in memoriam, we will not let these brave men be forgotten. They belong to our country now in a way that can never be trumped.


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