Remembering 41

“Where we goin’, Bake?” former President George H.W. Bush asked, prompted by a visit from longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James Baker. “We’re going to heaven” Mr. Baker responded, “That’s where I want to go” Mr. Bush uttered.

It was on that day, only 13 hours later, at 10:10 PM,  that President George H.W. Bush’s monumental and prestigious story would come to an end. Minutes before, former President George W. Bush received a phone call, where he was informed his father had just moments to live. Put on speaker phone, unsure of whether or not he could be heard, he said “Dad, I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father”. Despite suffering from Vascular Parkinsonism, making breathing and speaking incredibly difficult, “I love you, too” his father responded.

Surrounded by family, pastors, caregivers and aides, Mr. Baker characterized his passing as “gentle”, noting that “If those things could be sweet, It was sweet”.  Shortly after death, the former President’s body was flown from Texas to Washington D.C., in the Presidential Plane on a journey aptly named “Special Mission 41”. His body laid in the rotunda of the United States Capitol from Monday, December 3rd at 7:30 PM to Wednesday, December 5th, at 7:00 AM. Following a memorial service at the national cathedral, he was flown back to Texas where he laid at Texas A&M university for a short while, before being buried in his Presidential library. President Bush now lays next to his wife, Barbara Bush, and his daughter, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush.

George H. W. Bush is often cited as one of the most impactful single-term Presidents of the United States, and It’s not hard to see why.  Graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he had already been accepted into Yale University when he made the decision to not attend, and instead to enlist in the U.S. Navy Reserve. At 18 years old, he was the youngest pilot in the United States Navy. During his service he was shot down by enemy combatants over the pacific ocean. After graduating yale with a B.A. in economics he refused a job at his father’s prestigious banking firm, and instead worked manual labor for an oilfield supply company. In 1964, he ran for U.S. Senate but was defeated by future President Lyndon B. Johnson, but just 2 years later he became the first Republican to ever represent Houston in Congress. Vying again for that Texas senate seat, he was again defeated. However, his efforts did not go unnoticed. President Nixon tapped H.W. Bush for Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971, Chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973, Director of the C.I.A in ‘76, and special Envoy to China in 1974.

He would end up running for President in 1980, but as the story goes, his party gave the nomination to President Ronald Reagan. Shockingly, President Reagan tapped H.W. Bush to be his Vice President, and they won in 2 of the largest political landslides of American history. What would end up being his final stint of public service, he was elected President in 1988. While in office, he signed the landmark piece of civil rights legislation known as the “Americans with Disabilities Act”. A committed environmental activist, President George H. W. Bush appointed the first professional environmentalist to lead the E.P.A and signed a series of landmark environmental bills in the form of the “Clean Air Act”.

Former President George H. W. Bush lies in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Washington. (Pool photo by Morry Gash via AP) (Morry Gash)

President H.W. Bush is understandably lauded for his foreign policy. In 1989, Bush’s foreign policy team became aware of a coup brewing in Panama, aiming to take out military dictator Manuel Noriega, but refused to aid the coup, calling it “unorganized” and “sketchy”. Though congressional Democrats criticized the President for failing to seize an opportunity, his instincts proved correct. Bush would lead “Operation Just Cause” a few months later, which successfully brought Manuel Noriega back to the United States and sent him to prison. President Bush also presided over the reunification of Germany after the Cold War, and negotiated a historic arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Most notably, President George H.W. Bush received congressional authorization to begin “Operation Desert Storm” and in less than 2 months, Bush had successfully ensured the sovereignty of Kuwait and the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military. Bush’s successes, and his failures were informed by a 23-word creed: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your Best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course. All that kind of thing.”

Lights shining on the U.S. Capitol the night that former President George H.W. Bush arrived, December 3rd, 10:32 PM. (Blayne Clegg)

What was a lively, bustling hall filled with tourists and guides, myself among them, was turned into a solemn funeral hall for a titan, overnight. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Americans from all across the country, we mourned the loss of a dedicated public servant. Standing in the rotunda, with my eyes enamored by the deep blues and powerful maroons of the American flag draped over his casket, I had no concern for the latest controversy at the top of my twitter feed. Being able to hear the echo of tear drops hitting the floor, and of fathers pulling their sons just a little closer than normal, made me nostalgic for a period in time I never got to experience. Watching the changing of the guards, who saluted for hours on end, stood in stark contrast to the status quo of American politics: toxicity, resent, and triviality. There is no rule, no natural law, that says that nations like America must exist, or will continue to do so. It is Much like a ship, we require renewal, upkeep, and maintenance, and it isn’t easy. We require a captain, and that captain might not always be your fist pick, but nonetheless, captain they are. Before you hit send on your provocative tweet, or impugn his motives, or offer your snide disregard, sympathize with the difficulty of what being that captain entails. George Herbert Walker Bush was given a single opportunity to be that captain, and with a steady hand, he stayed the course, and we are all better off because of him.

Pete Davidson Under Fire

On the final episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) before our November midterm elections, the show trotted out Pete Davidson for another election special. During the skit in question, Davidson was tasked with giving his first impression of a batch of midterm election candidates. After mocking incumbent Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, he compared Republican Representative of New York, Peter King, to a cigar.  

Next on Davidson’s hit list, oddly enough, was yet another Republican. This time, it was Republican challenger Dan Crenshaw. It would be worthwhile to add some important context to Davidson’s comments. Dan Crenshaw, during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, had his right eye destroyed by an improvised explosive device, and his left eye was badly damaged. After several surgeries, he regained eyesight in his left eye. After regaining sight, he returned to the Navy to serve two more tours, once more in Afghanistan, and another in South Korea. Crenshaw attempted a sixth tour, but was medically retired due to injuries to his eye.

Pete Davidson understood this well, and went on to mock Crenshaw and his wounds sustained during combat. Davidson joked that “You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate in Texas and not a hitman in a porno movie,” Davidson, resisting a laugh at his joke, expanded upon his comment, stating, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever. Whatever.” Crenshaw handled this more professionally than anyone could have, taking to twitter to share a “Good rule in life: I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended. That being said,  I hope SNL recognizes that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.” In a video obtained by TMZ, Crenshaw took the high road, saying “I want to get away from this culture where we demand apologies from people every time they misspeak. […] I don’t need to demand an apology from them, they can do whatever they want. They’re feeling the heat from around the country right now.”

I am far less willing to give Davidson the benefit of the doubt. Davidson has been a long time liberal, in December of 2017 he went as far as to tattoo former Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton onto his right leg. Davidson was targeting Republicans, and alluded to it himself when he said “Here’s a Democrat, so I look fair,” before proceeding to mock Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Finding little to mock in a young, handsome, passionate NAVY Seal, Davidson went straight for the lowest hanging fruit: a decorated SEAL’s disability. One of the byproducts of the politically correct cultural moment that we find ourselves in, is that some things can’t be joked about. Regardless of how you feel about the situation we’re in, we’re in it. And if anything deserves to be off limits, It’s the mockery of disabilities sustained in conflicts, won by people like Crenshaw, who defend the freedom to mock him in the first place.

If we were to remain consistent in our principles, Davidson crossed a line, and is now no-longer suitable for employment. In theory, Davidson should be treated no different than James Damore, Roseanne Barr, or Bill Maher. Either offensive things said in the public domain are subject to punishment, or they aren’t. SNL, in recent years, has taken a turn to the left. They were recently under fire for a skit called “Kavanaugh Hearing Cold Open,” which portrayed then Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was tasked with defending himself against a 35 year old allegation, as an angry drunk. SNL had little to no empathy or understanding of the situation Kavanaugh found himself in. SNL is easily America’s most recognizable, late-night, comedic TV show. As such, SNL must be held accountable in mirroring and upholding the political moment that we live in. It is unfair and hypocritical that Davidson be let off the hook, but others suffer consequences of jokes and statements made in the past. It is either okay to make jokes about touchy topics, or it isn’t, and SNL can’t have it both ways. SNL and It’s platform could be a tool used to dismantle this black & white paradigm, but until they do, Dan Crenshaw deserves an apology and Pete Davidson deserves punishment.


Tree of Life Shooting

On October 27th, 2018, gunman Robert Bowers took the lives of eleven congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Amongst the dead were Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.

The gunman, Robert Bowers, had a track-record of deeply anti-semitic behavior. In addition to yelling anti-semitic epithets, he also attacked on Saturday, which for observers of Judaism is Shabbat, a day of rest and relaxation. Shortly before entering the building, Bowers posted a message on social-media platform Gab.

Gab, a website with almost no content restrictions, is favored and used by many fringe radicals. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in,” the post wrote.

Bowers is being charged with 44 criminal counts, 11 of which are federal hate crimes, all of which carry the maximum penalty of death. U.S Attorney Scott Brady is leading the charge to prosecute this act of grotesque violence, and he has filed motions to pursue the death penalty.

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both signaled their interest in pursuing the death penalty, with President Trump not mincing words: “When people do this, they should get the death penalty”.

Beyond anti-semitism, It is unclear what motivated Bowers. Bowers said in a post on Gab four hours before the shooting, that he didn’t vote for President Trump, because he perceived President Trump to be too supportive of the Jewish community. President Trump visited the scene, placing a stone he brought from the White House on the fence outside of the synagogue, with the First Lady placing a white rose, both Jewish burial traditions. As President Trump’s motorcade passed by protestors, he spent more than an hour at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center visiting victims and police officers.

In the wake of the shooting, many have taken steps to politicize the massacre. Many opponents of the President have accused him of being partially responsible for what happened on the 27th of October. Paul Carberry, a resident of the neighborhood where the shooting happened told the Star Tribune that “He didn’t pull the trigger, but his verbiage and actions don’t help.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement where she urged congress to “finally act on commonsense, bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation”.

However, Shayna Marcus, a nurse who helped victims on-scene shortly after the shooting believed focusing on the President wasn’t the right thing to do, “I don’t think focusing on Trump is the answer — or on politics”, Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the President, buffed the sentiment, stating “If people are there to protest, that’s their right. For the president, it was not a moment for politics”. Neither Democratic or Republican leaders were present in Pittsburgh after the shooting, despite being invited by the President.


Gun Violence in Our Nation

On February 14th, 2018 a gunman massacred 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. What followed this tragic incident was the beginning of a national debate we have frequently in the United States: what do we do about guns in our society?

The shooting, in addition to sparking nationwide debate on firearms, also inspired local action. On April 20th, 2018, several hundred Davis High Students walked out of class to meet with Davis Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) and express their concerns about their safety to him. Eleanor Richter, a former Senior at Davis Senior High School read the names of the students slain in Parkland and added “that could’ve very well been us”

Though the fears held by High School students are legitimate, author and Harvard professor David Ropeik writes in the New York Times that: “the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.”

Though school shootings and violence generally are becoming rarer, many still want change, Including progressive Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who said in an Interview with NBC news on February 18th, 2018 that “I believe that we should not be selling assault weapons in this country. These weapons [AR-15’s] are not for hunting, they are for killing human beings.” Despite attacks on AR-15’s specifically, they account for relatively few murders nationwide. A study by the National Shooting Sports foundation and the FBI found that despite AR-15 sales soaring in 2012, murder by rifle accounted for only 374/10,303 or 0.036% of all gun deaths in 2016.

However, this isn’t to say that Congress is at a dead stop. Laws and regulations are being worked on in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. President Donald Trump on October 1st, 2018, said that his administration is in the ‘final stages’ of a nationwide ban on ‘bump stocks’ the tool used by the Las Vegas shooter to mimic full automatic firing. “We’re knocking out bump stocks,” Trump told reporters at a press conference “I have told the N.R.A — bump stocks are gone”. In addition, conservative activist and shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv has been quietly working with Senate Republicans to pass safety measures. Meekly and quietly, Kashuv has represented a rebuke to his fellow survivors, mostly advocates of gun control. Despite being in the minority, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have secured funding on a “Stop School Violence Act’, and have managed to have their bill passed in the house, awaiting a vote in the Senate. However, It remains to be seen if the Senators and the President can get their policy proposals fully implemented. Just this April, Kashuv flew out to Nebraska to escort a high school senior to her prom after she had discovered Kashuv when he rose to prominence. In the debate about gun violence It is easy to dehumanize the opposition, however moments like these help to remind us of just how human we really are.