A little less presidential pomp, please

  • 6 December 2018
  • NormanL

Another perspective on the memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush -- this time, a broader view of how we increasingly treat our presidents, in life and in death, more like kings than public servants.

The National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke writes:

It is in no way to insult George H. W. Bush — or any other president, for that matter — to ask whether the retooling of their calendars is an appropriate way for the people of a republic to respond to the death of an elected representative. [Wednesday], the press reports, is to be a “day of mourning” — a day on which the stock market will be closed, on which the federal government will shut down, on which the House of Representatives will begin a week-long break, on which various universities will cancel classes, on which the Postal Service will halt deliveries, on which the Supreme Court will adjourn, and on which major American newspapers will postpone events that they had previously planned to hold. Across the U.S., flags will be flown at half-staff for a month.

Why? Irrespective of whether he was a great man or a poor one, George H. W. Bush was a public employee. He was not a king. He was not a pope. He did not found or save or design the republic. To shut down our civil society for a day in order to mark his peaceful passing is to invert the appropriate relationship between the citizen and the state, and to take yet another step toward the fetishization of an executive branch whose role is supposed to be more bureaucratic than spiritual, but that has come of late to resemble Caesar more than to resemble Coolidge.

We appreciate the view -- it's about as strong a small "r" republican bit of writing we can recall seeing in some time. And it is generally true: Americans do tend to surround elected officials with too much ceremony. It would have baffled (if not offended) the founders, who waged a war against such pomp. 

Ceremony is useful, even in a republic. But we should never forget that the politicians we hire and fire are people just like us.