From 41 to 45 (and back again)

Since his death last Friday, the tributes have poured in from around the world for George Herbert Walker Bush, who will be laid to rest today in Texas, next to Barbara, his wife of 73 years, who died in April and their three-year-old daughter who died of leukemia in 1953.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney delivered one of the eulogies during Bush's funeral Wednesday, breaking down at one point while speaking about a friend he clearly looked up to, both as a man and as a leader.

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The accomplishments and public service of the 41st president of the United States, both before he occupied the Oval Office - decorated veteran, CIA director, congressman, vice president - and afterwards - raising more than $1 billion for various charities, parachuting for his 90th birthday - are legendary.

Even his lesser-known acts speak to a man devoted to helping others, even at his own expense, as one Washington Post story noted. The 1992 White House Christmas party looked to be a grim affair, with Bush having lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton the month before and a demoralized staff packing up their belongings before Clinton's inauguration in January. Bush knew he needed to do something to lift everyone's spirits, so he swallowed his pride and called Dana Carvey, the Saturday Night Live performer who had impersonated Bush to devastating effect for years, and asked the comedian to appear as Bush at the party.

When the band struck up Hail To The Chief, Carvey marched into the room in Bush character, greeted by howls of laughter from White House staffers. While Carvey took to the podium to wave his hands around, throw out some of those famous one-liners like "wouldn't be prudent at this juncture" and inform the employees he had called down to the Secret Service as the president the night before, saying "feel like going jogging tonight. In the nude... fully unclothed," Bush and his wife quietly entered the room and stood in the back, laughing with everyone else.

Before inviting Bush up, Carvey let everyone in on what his Bush impersonation was based on: "you start with Mr. Rogers, then you add a little John Wayne."

In other words, a kind, gentle soul with a steel backbone who stands up for what is right.

In the past week, many others, not only those on both sides of the political divide, but from White House reporters who covered the Bush presidency, have cited similar qualities.

Bush's funeral was much like John McCain's earlier this fall - a sombre affair filled with many laughs and fond memories of a decent man devoted to family and country.

The stark contrast between Bush and the current Oval Office occupant - the 45th president of the United States - is clear, yet the comparison should be greeted with optimism, rather than sadness at what's been lost.

Two things are immediately obvious.

First, Trump - the man and the president - is a historical oddity while Bush - the man and the president - is the historical norm. There have been bad American presidents before but they are vastly outnumbered by the good ones from both political parties. Trump was not asked to speak at Bush's funeral Wednesday. It's more than mere coincidence that the last sitting American president not invited to eulogize a former president upon his passing, regardless of their political stripes, was Richard Nixon, the last truly awful president.

Second, bad presidents make Americans realize they deserve better. In 1932, they fled from Herbert Hoover's cold response to the Depression and flocked to Franklin Roosevelt, a man who projected both resilience and strength from his wheelchair and was arguably the greatest president of the 20th century. After the lawlessness of Nixon, American embraced the decency of Gerald Ford, the common man in Jimmy Carter and then the boundless optimism of Ronald Reagan.

It was Reagan and Bush that saved the Republican Party in Nixon's wake. Bush was so loved and respected that Reagan chose him as his running mate against Carter in the 1980 election, despite the fact Bush challenged Reagan in a hard-fought battle for the Republican nomination. In modern terms, the equivalent would have been Trump wanting to mend fences with the Republican Party by picking Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz to be his vice president, instead of the obsequiously unctuous Mike Pence.

Like Nixon, Trump is now in a legal quagmire from which there is no escape via angry tweets, boastful rallies or the firing of longtime supporters. Nixon also tried the "you're fired" route and it still didn't save his presidency or his legacy. History appears to be repeating itself.

As recently as last year, Trump mocked Bush's famous "thousand points of light" phrase to describe the willingness of Americans to give of their time, energy and money in the support of one another. It is Bush's spirit, not Trump's, that inspires today's and tomorrow's citizens, in the United States and around the world, towards working towards a a greater good for everyone, not just the people who say they like you.

The choice is plain: be one of the points of light or be part of the darkness.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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