In Remembrance: Does Death Re-Write Facts?

On Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, the United States grieved the loss of its 41st President George H.W. Bush, aged 94. Regardless of party and ideological divides, it is the general consensus that a president’s death be met with respect and sorrow.   

In the following days, people on both sides took to Twitter to express their sadness. Former Republican Governor of California (and personal friend to President Bush) Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted, “President Bush has left us for one last flight but his destination isn’t unknown. He’s flying into the arms of the love of his life, Barbara. This evening, each of us should take a minute to look up and offer him a silent thanks.”

Democrat and LGBT Activist George Takei tweeted, “President George H W Bush rejoins the heavens, adding his own point of light among the thousand he once so beautifully described. A nation mourns the loss of a leader, and a family their beloved father and grandfather.”

So what is it about the passing of a divisive character that washes away the possible feelings of malcontentedness? Why is there a veil that covers peoples’ past opinions? If President Bush was still alive, I’m sure those who were politically or ideologically opposed wouldn’t think twice about speaking badly of the former leader.

The obvious answer to this is we as a society are taught to respect death. One’s wake should not be comprised of hate-filled tweets and tasteless death-related jokes. Rather it should be a celebration of one’s life and their accomplishments.

But is this almost universally agreed upon reaction to death really stronger than the divisiveness currently taking the country by storm? Apparently so.

Like every year before it, 2018 has seen the deaths of many talented artists, politicians and humanitarians. Following each death were tweets, open letters, TV interviews and so on.

In what is truly a curious phenomenon, the positive in these cases often outweigh the negative. A young rapper charged with domestic violence becomes one of this generation’s greatest artists, a senator teetering on the line of being a warmonger is remembered as a straight-shooting veteran loyal to his nation rather than his party.

You won’t hear much news coverage talking about President Bush’s death by examining a man who appointed an alleged sexual assaulter to the Supreme Court, or who gave the Congressional Medal of Freedom to Sen. Strom Thurmond; someone who voted against both Civil Rights Acts.

You’ll instead hear about how a young 18-year-old joined the United States Navy and became a decorated pilot during World War II, or about a president who oversaw the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Personally, I’m in agreement with the idea that the death of President Bush is deserving of the attention and mourning it’s receiving. Even though I didn’t agree with a lot of what he stood for politically, I can respect him for standing firm in his ideologies.

However, is this a result of personal opinion or something deeper, ingrained in us by societal standards taught for hundreds of years?