WASHINGTON — The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as “the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush’s casket left for a final service in Houston and burial today at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.
His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon. As a motorcade subsequently carried Bush’s remains to the family church, St. Martin’s Episcopal, along a closed interstate, hundreds of people in stopped cars on the other side of the road, took pictures and shot cell phone video. One driver of a tanker truck climbed atop the hulking vehicle for a better view, and at least 15 firefighters scaled a pair of stopped firetrucks to salute.
Upon its arrival at the church, Bush’s casket was met by a military band and Houston Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush’s public life and character.
“He was a man of such great humility,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Those who travel “the high road of humility in Washington, D.C.,” he added pointedly, “are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.
George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”
The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.
The elder Bush was “the last great-soldier statesman,” historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times.
But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, “Never know. Gotta ask.”
The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush’s life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.
Simpson regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush’s friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. “You would have wanted him on your side,” he said.
Meacham praised Bush’s call to volunteerism, placing his “1,000 points of light” alongside Abraham Lincoln’s call to honor “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines “companion verses in America’s national hymn.”
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.”
Bush’s death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.
Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president’s service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.
Bush is set to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before boarding a special funeral train to be carried to his burial Thursday.
Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
NEW YORK — His nation celebrated George H.W. Bush this week as a statesman, a veteran, a loving and committed family man who was a totem of respect, humility and mildness. But something else seeped into all the praise as Americans gathered Wednesday to send him on his way.
Bush was also remembered as an emissary from, to use his own idiom, a kinder, gentler America of seemingly clearer challenges — which were, in reality, as complicated as the fragmentary problems we face today.
In an era where Donald Trump volleys insults at will from the White House directly to an audience of tens of millions, could it be that a portion of this week’s warmth about Bush 41 is fueled in part by a hunger for a time when American politics, and American life, seemed to make just a bit more sense?
When Bush took office in early 1989, the country was just eight years out from Walter Cronkite’s avuncular, reassuring “That’s the way it is” — even when it wasn’t. During his single term, “reality TV” still meant Bob Saget rolling a few embarrassing camcorder tapes on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” And, hard as it may seem to believe, a phone was still used pretty much to call people up and talk to them.
More saliently, George H.W. Bush was the final president to preside over — and help shepherd to an end — the more outwardly coherent narrative of American geopolitics that had prevailed since the end of World War II.
The US had a distinct, discrete adversary — communism, as embodied in the Soviet Union, whose undoing took place on Bush’s watch. That adversary had an army and an arsenal, but its main thrust was not the shadowy, asymmetrical warfare that the al-Qaidas and Islamic States of the world now use.
The reality, of course, was infinitely more intricate. For example, it’s hard to dispute that American policy contributed, however inadvertently, to the rise of that asymmetrical warfare we so fear today.
Yet even if things were more complex than they seemed, the perception of the world under George H.W. Bush was this: You still knew who your friends were, and you still knew who your enemies were. No more.
Within a couple years of Bush leaving office, the great online revolution was off and running, hurtling toward the era of social media, micropublishing and “fake news.” Communities fragmented. Institutions faded. Echo chambers rose. The promise of a golden age of human interaction — again, perhaps a promise more than it ever was a reality — melted into a more tempered notion of the internet as a city with gleaming parks, sure, but with dank and dark alleys as well.
It all had a decidedly anti-Cronkite effect: Suddenly we had no idea what, exactly, was the way it was — and what way it was supposed to be.
We remain in that confused crouch today, able to publish globally from the palms of our hands, competing with each other to have the loudest and most persuasive narrative of them all.
And that leads us to the final comparison: George H.W. Bush and Donald J. Trump, starkly different figures with different leadership styles, both unique products of equally distinctive eras.
Whether it’s something you advocate or something you just as vehemently oppose, this much is certain: The Trump administration, approaching the two-year mark, has been a wind-in-our-faces roller-coaster ride that rarely affords opportunities to pause and reflect.
Trump has brought to the presidency an irascible, seat-of-your-pants sensibility, and his social media proclivities have drawn in even the most reluctant of us.
Off the cuff has become the norm. Equilibrium is rare. Anger and aggressiveness and other behaviors previously considered unpresidential are now standard fare. And calibration of the sort that the Reagan and Bush White Houses specialized in is not only bypassed but, in some ways, scorned as stodgy and out of step with a moment-to-moment news cycle.
So it was all the more thought-provoking Wednesday to see the astonishing optics of a church whose front rows contained five living former presidents and their wives — people who, with their political machines, have been perched at the peak of the American political food chain since the Bicentennial. Carter. Clinton. Bush 43. Obama. Trump.
As the service began, and the five men of unimaginable power watched it unfold, there was virtually no drama, nothing unexpected, nothing overly volatile — as least visibly. Just a comfortable, dignified script and some mannered stories of a statesman whose time has now passed.
In America, we tend to hold onto romantic notions about the elders of the generations behind us. Why? Perhaps we think, rightly or wrongly, that they were made of stronger stuff — something more stable, something that made more sense. The American nation, which used to romanticize tomorrows, now spends far more time fetishizing yesterdays.
Is it any wonder, then, that this long goodbye to George Herbert Walker Bush — World War II veteran, distributor of homespun sayings, repository of Greatest Generation honor — might be an emotional American moment bigger than one man’s impressive legacy?
After a generation of complexity and fragmentation and polarization like the country has never seen, might we also be bidding a final farewell to a more comfortable national yesterday as well?
WATERLOO — A plan being developed in City Hall would restrict where fireworks dealers can set up shop.
Waterloo City Planner Aric Schroeder said his office is drafting an ordinance that would prevent temporary fireworks stands from locating in the parking lots of local retailers and other commercially zoned sites.
“Tents and any other temporary structures would be pushed to the industrial districts,” said Schroeder, who discussed the measure this week with members of the city’s Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission.
An early draft of the ordinance, which requires City Council approval before taking effect, would require any temporary fireworks stands to be in M1, M2 and M2-P industrial zoning districts.
Permanent fireworks stores would be allowed in C2 commercial districts, although there has been some discussion about allowing those sales only as accessory uses in places like Menards, Walmart and similar retailers.
Existing stores in commercial districts, such as Crossroads Fireworks, would be “grandfathered” and not have to cease operations if the zoning changes are adopted.
Councilmen Pat Morrissey and Jerome Amos Jr. both support getting the temporary stands away from residential areas and into more remote settings.
“One of the problems with the temporary ones is that they look so unsightly and pop up all over anywhere,” Morrissey said.
Amos added, “It is a concern from a safety standpoint if something happens, the impact it can have on citizens.”
Waterloo is among the cities struggling to set rules after state lawmakers legalized fireworks use in 2017. Some large cities, including Waterloo, voted to ban residents from exploding fireworks in the city limits, but they are prevented by law from banning sales.
The Waterloo City Council voted in December 2017 to adopt an ordinance forcing stores and temporary fireworks stands to be in “M-1” and “M-2” industrial zones. They rescinded that measure last June under threats of legal action from fireworks dealers.
But later last summer, several court rulings around the state found cities had the ability to place zoning requirements on fireworks sales locations.
“We feel pretty confident we’re in compliance with what the judges have said,” said Waterloo Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson.
Iowa law allows retailers operating from a permanent building to sell fireworks from June 1 to July 8 and from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3 each year. Temporary fireworks stands can sell only from June 13 to July 8.
While it remains illegal to discharge fireworks in the Waterloo city limits, Morrissey said there has been some discussion among council members about allowing a short one- or two-day usage window around July 4.