The men who came to eulogize former President George H.W. Bush spoke of the 41st president and the American presidency on Wednesday in broad and magisterial terms.
He was "the last great soldier statesman" in the words of his biographer. A former Canadian prime minister recalled Bush as the leader of the "greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on this earth."
But the words of praise for Bush seemed to contrast with a jarring reality: A generation after he left office,the presidency has become all-consuming in American life, yet it has also never seemed smaller and more prone to failure.
"The public interest in the presidency is sky high," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. "But the institution of the president has shrunk. It's becoming a tawdry kind of thing."
The smallness (and meanness) was evident the moment President Donald Trump entered Washington National Cathedral for Bush's state funeral, shed his overcoat and took a seat with his fellow commanders in chief.
Trump briefly shook hands with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Beyond that exchange, the four presidents in the front row seemed incapable of even fleeting contact. Former President Bill Clinton glanced quickly in Trump's direction and then looked away. Rather than shake Trump's hand, former President Jimmy Carter checked his watch.
Trump, arms folded across his chest, stared stoically throughout, as traits of his predecessor, so different from his own, were praised.
Some of the contrast between then and now is a product of Trump and his divide and conquer kind of politics. In the cathedral, Bush eulogized his father as an "imperfect man" who left America as "a more perfect union."