His exclusion from Senator John McCain’s funeral this week highlights yet again how President Donald Trump, unlike those who held office before him, remains the most contentious figure to occupy the White House in recent memory, if not American history.
Where previous presidents attended customary events, Trump is often uninvited or uninterested in feigning proper decorum — as noted by The Washington Post, “both unwelcome and unwilling to perform the basic rituals and ceremonies of the presidency, from public displays of mourning to cultural ceremonies.”
The latest snub comes in the form of the upcoming funeral for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which, before his death, the senator made clear he did not want the sitting president to attend. That the feeling is mutual — Trump nixed issuing a statement that praised McCain as a “hero” — only underscores the myriad ways Trump has rejected the norms of his office and, increasingly, has been rejected in turn.
In addition to being pointedly not invited to McCain’s funeral and memorial service later this week — while former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will both eulogize the Arizona Republican — Trump was quietly asked to stay away from former first lady Barbara Bush’s funeral earlier this year. He also opted to skip the annual Kennedy Center Honors last year amid a political backlash from some of the honorees and has faced repeated public rebuffs from athletes invited to the White House after winning championships.
Tim Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, noted this is not like Trump staging “a rally in a state that voted against him” — this is about standard presidential activity.
“We’re talking about a president who can’t even go and participate in a ritual where presidents are usually welcomed, and that is one of the consequences of his having defined the presidency in a sectarian way.”
“It is a tearing of the fabric of the presidency that he’s not invited, but I understand why he’s not invited because he’s personalized the presidency in a way no previous occupant of the presidency has done,” Naftali said. “Donald Trump has never accepted the fact that he is the head of state.”
From champion sports teams to the royal family of Britain, Trump has been openly rejected by numerous individuals who generally eschew politics to honor the office of president.
During a trip to the United Kingdom in June, his visit with Queen Elizabeth II was undermined by reports in the British press that she was the only member of the royal family willing to meet with him.
Trump also skipped last year’s Kennedy Center Honors after three of the five honorees said they would or might boycott the traditional White House reception pegged to the celebration. And Trump has faced high-profile rebellions from athletes he had hoped to honor.
But Trump certainly reciprocates the negative feelings expressed by others at times — the Post notes that Trump rarely ventures too far from places of comfort, which largely include his own properties and venues where he is sure to be adored rather than chastised.
It is perhaps at times a mutual agreement that Trump is not wanted in certain settings, and those are settings he would prefer to avoid in the first place.
“We’ve kind of elected this apex predator, and you don’t sit T. rex down at the dinner table,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant and strategist. “I think civilized society doesn’t want him behaving crudely at the dinner table, and he has no interest in their pretensions.”
At his recent rallies, Trump has taken to expounding on his lack of acceptance by the “elites,” proclaiming it a badge of pride. And his disdain for what he terms political correctness is similarly applauded by many of his supporters.
This is a major part of his appeal for his diehard fans.
“The thing to realize is that Donald Trump’s base revels in him playing the transgressive jerk,” said Rick Wilson, author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies” and a veteran of Republican campaigns.
Wilson added that with McCain in particular, the funeral snub perhaps stings more than most, in part because Trump can’t abide not being the main focus of adulation. “You know what is making Donald Trump the craziest right now is he’s not the center of attention,” Wilson said. “He’s crawling the damn walls because they’re running story after story on John McCain and he hates it because he’s not the center of attention.”
As the presidential historian Naftali noted, Trump does not govern as though he is the head of state — he is the president of some Americans but not all, unwilling or unable to forsake his own glory to pursue the interests of the country he purports to lead and love.