I cannot imagine the families of those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing refusing to meet with President Bill Clinton; or the families of the Sandy Hook children refusing to meet with President Barack Obama; or the families of 9/11 victims refusing to meet with President George W. Bush; or the shuttle Challenger crew's family refusing to meet with President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
But then Clinton would never have attended a campaign rally on a day Americans died; Bush would never have blamed the airline employees; and Obama would never have blamed the school administrators for the death and destruction. Reagan didn't step off the tarmac to make a few remarks, continue on to a political rally and then joke around that he was having a bad hair day because of the rain. (Instead, Reagan gave one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency, from the Oval Office, instead of delivering the State of the Union address.)
These presidents, whatever you think of their politics, were decent men, in possession of empathy and a deep understanding of the enormity of the office they held.
The bipartisan refusal of federal, state and local officials (including the Republican speaker and Senate majority leader) to accompany Trump to Pittsburgh and, thereby, condone his self-absorbed presidential photo-op was remarkable and, in a way, unifying. The Washington Post reported:
"A mourning family doesn't want to meet him. Leaders of his own party declined to join him. The mayor has explicitly asked him not to come. Protesters have mobilized. And yet President Trump visited this grief-stricken city Tuesday, amid accusations that he and his administration continue to fuel the anti-Semitism that inspired Saturday's massacre inside a synagogue.
"The president and first lady Melania Trump arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday afternoon, not long after the first funerals began for the 11 victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue. More than 1,300 people have signed up for a demonstration at the same time - declaring Trump "unwelcome in our city and in our country."
"Congressional leaders from both parties - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., - have all declined invitations to join Trump on his visit, according to officials familiar with matter. (McConnell's office said the Kentucky senator 'has events in the state and was unable to attend.')
"So have relatives of at least one of the victims."
You see, the local and state officials, and the families, were busy on a day of four funerals, which were attended by thousands. It was a day about the victims and the families, about unity and love. It was not time for a cheesy photo-op.
So Trump trudged to Pittsburgh with only family, Ron Dermer, who is Israel's ambassador to the United States, and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers at his side. It turned out to be a perfect way to silence him. There was no speech he could give that would comfort the community. There was no warmth or empathy he had to convey. Better to say nothing and go through a ritual of placing stones on the markers of the dead. He then left to meet with the injured police officers and hospital staff, without cameras. He reportedly also met with the widow of one of the 11 victims.
Trump chose not to govern as a unifying figure; he chose to govern by division and without decorum. As a result, Americans no longer see him in the same light as they have past presidents. A recent poll shows nearly 70 percent of Americans think he's damaged the dignity of the presidency. Moreover, "almost seven in 10 (69%) Americans say that they would like President Trump's speech and behavior to be more consistent with his predecessors."
The reasons for shunning Trump varied. The Post reported: "Trump offered to visit with the family of Daniel Stein, a 71-year-old who had just become a grandfather when he was gunned down at Tree of Life. Stein’s nephew, Stephen Halle, said the family declined in part because of the comments Trump made ... when he suggested the synagogue should have had an armed guard. ‘Everybody feels that they were inappropriate,’ Halle said Tuesday. ‘He was blaming the community.’ "
Others believed Trump had created an atmosphere of hatred toward immigrants, emboldened white nationalists and spread conspiracy theories about Jewish billionaire George Soros. They assign moral responsibility to Trump, for at the very least failing to denounce in unequivocal terms Neo-Nazis, using anti-Semitic buzzwords ("globalist") and speaking in the lingo of white nationalist who fear an "invasion" of black and brown people. One sign read, "Trump, Apologize for stoking the hatred or go home!" Others said, "No place for hate!" and "Words matter."
The election six days from now is largely a referendum on Trump. But Tuesday was a referendum of sorts, as well. For once, he brought the country together. With near-perfect unity, they chose to stand with loved ones - not with the source of so much venom and racism. There really is hope for America.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion from a center-right perspective for The Washington Post. @JRubinBlogger