US Politics

Awkward: silence and straight-ahead stares as the Trumps, Obamas and Clintons share a pew at George H.W. Bush’s state funeral

  • The funeral was the first time that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been together since his inauguration last year
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 2:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 9:31pm

US President Donald Trump stared straight ahead. Former President Bill Clinton scanned the program. Former President Jimmy Carter checked his watch.

The atmosphere at the funeral of George H.W. Bush on Wednesday was noticeably chilly as the current president had a rare meeting with his predecessors. Trump shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, did not engage with Bill or Hillary Clinton, and promptly took his seat at the end of the row.

As Trump arrived, Hillary Clinton – his 2016 opponent, and the subject of the president’s continuing taunts – did not glance his way.

The funeral at the Washington National Cathedral brought together the current and all former living presidents.

A son weeps for his father, amid grandeur of state funeral

All but former President George W. Bush sat with their spouses together in a front row. Before Trump’s arrival, they chatted amicably.

It was Bush, who sat with other family member at his father’s funeral, who appeared to break the solemnity, offering gregarious handshakes to Trump and all of the former presidents and their spouses. He also handed what appeared to be a piece of candy to Michelle Obama, in what has become a tradition between the two.

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama laughed in response.

Bush gave the former first lady a mint this year at the funeral of Senator John McCain, a moment Obama later described warmly.

“He is my partner in crime at every major thing where all the formers gather,” Obama told NBC. “So we’re together all the time, and I love him to death. He’s a wonderful man.”

Former presidents have come together only occasionally over the past several decades, typically for a funeral, or to celebrate the opening of a president’s library at the end of his term. The funeral of former President Ronald Reagan in 2004 brought together both Bushes, Clinton, Carter and Gerald Ford.

Trump has had a particularly acrimonious relationship with the Bush family, criticising George H.W. Bush and his sons.

The funeral was the first time that Hillary Clinton and Trump have been together since his inauguration last year following their bitter presidential campaign. Trump has continued to call for an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

George H.W. Bush makes his final journey to Washington

During the campaign, Trump derided his opponent as “Crooked Hillary” and a “nasty woman”. Crowds at his political rallies ahead of this year’s midterm election continued to chant “lock her up” at the mention of her name.

Throughout US history, presidents have often been at odds with each other. Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman didn’t speak for years. But historians say no previous chief executive has spoken as publicly and as harshly about predecessors as Trump has.

“Not even close,” Mark Updegrove, who has written books on Lyndon Johnson and the Bush family.

Trump “entered the White House on a trail of scorched earth”, Updegrove said. “I don’t think he respects the institutions the way other presidents have.”