Rolling home

My Chief Texas Correspondent has ping’d me the link to a local TV station down there, giving live coverage of the last ride to College Station of President George H. W. Bush. Their camera is mounted on the train, and as it rolls one may glimpse ten thousand faces along the track, standing in gloom and rain, as they have apparently been doing for hours; their cars parked everywhere, their children and their friends around them; their umbrellas and their Merican flags.

From a helicopter, we see the train itself, and I notice that a freight door is wide open on one of the cars: so all may see the draped casket as it passes.

I think back over half a lifetime, of the Bush family, and the Bush presidents, the father and the son who learned from his example. I had no more knowledge of them than a passing journalist can acquire, but a strong impression from their works and words of both “41” and “43.” They were, in recollection, decent and honourable men, who did their best in good conscience, with prayers.

In all the heat of politics, through all efforts to drag them into mud, I recall nothing either of them did or said that I would characterize as cynical or sleazy. Both were in the best sense patriots, who knew they’d been elected to serve their country, and every national interest; and not a partisan faction therein. Neither lacked courage, nor when events called, the boldness that leadership often requires. I could not say this of many politicians. It has nothing to do with whether I agreed with them on one judgement or another, or whether this or that policy succeeded.

Already, Bush Senior seems a figure from another age, when the concept of “mom and apple pie” could still be imagined as uncontroversial, and formal civility in public life had not yet perished, though one could see it was in rapid decline. This is not a veiled criticism of Trump, but of the times that have produced both him, and his opponents. While I am no enthusiast for “democracy,” my gut tells me that at least among those old enough to remember, people ache for the restoration of dignity. The death of this old man reminds us, that the present carnival of malice was never inevitable.

But history is littered with dishonourable leaders, populists and demagogues, petty criminals and very ambitious criminals in high places. My look back is not mere nostalgia for a better time, or a better generation. Nothing is inevitable in our divinely-freed world, which by turns accepts and rejects the grace of our loving Creator. We have better and worse angels, to obey or disobey.

May the old parachutist rest in peace. (A sport he first tried over the Sea of Japan.) He really did “serve his country,” to the limit of his ability and understanding — a gentleman, of consistent good faith and good cheer.

We will need character ourselves, to find character in our leaders again.