President Donald Trump drew criticism on Monday for saluting the casket of former President George H.W. Bush as he and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Footage shows the president and the first lady approaching Bush’s flag-draped casket. The Trumps stand solemnly for a moment, before Trump raises his hand to his face in a salute and Melania places her hand on her chest.
However, the president’s apparent show of respect was lambasted online as inappropriate and incorrect.
The rules for saluting are complex, but the right to salute is widely considered to be earned by military personnel. As Trump has not served in the military, some saw it as improper for the president to salute Bush, particularly as he served in World War II. Bush was the last U.S. president to serve in active combat.
Trump was also criticized for his technique, as footage showed his thumb to be bent rather than in alignment with his fingers.
Military expert and professor of political science at Notre Dame University Michael Desch told Newsweek that much surrounding proper etiquette has changed within the last generation:
"This whole issue is quite fraught. A generation ago, a president who had not served, or even one who had but was not in uniform, would not have even returned a salute. Since President Reagan, things have changed, and not for the better in my opinion, in terms of civil-military etiquette."
Desch went on: "Certainly, a president ought to acknowledge a military salute rendered. But returning a salute while not in uniform seems vaguely inappropriate, but then so does much of what passes for modern etiquette. Also, the president as commander in chief had wide latitude in these matters."
Desch added, "Still, I noticed that former President George W. Bush, who has served, put his hand over his heart as the flag-draped casket of his father passed. That strikes me as the appropriate show of respect."