Former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, are seated during the unveiling of the official portraits of their son, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, Thursday, May 31, 2012, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Trump, Bush and the Meaning of Sacrifice

“Sacrifice,” is a word whose meaning has been watered down over time, particularly when considering the personal sacrifices our leaders have made in defense of, or in allegiance to, this wonderful country of ours.

Consider our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. Over the weekend, President Bush was admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital for complications resulting from pneumonia. Sadly, former First Lady Barbara Bush was admitted alongside her husband for precautionary measures. It is times like this when a nation’s gratitude, like an emotion long buried, comes rushing back. His sacrifice for his country is something to behold.

This, from a 2003 profile of James Bradley’s book, Flyboys in The Telegraph:

The former President George Bush narrowly escaped being beheaded and eaten by Japanese soldiers when he was shot down over the Pacific in the Second World War, a shocking new history published in America has revealed.

 The book, Flyboys, is the result of historical detective work by James Bradley, whose father was among the marines later photographed raising the flag over the island of Iwo Jima.

Lt. George Bush, then a 20-year-old pilot, was among nine airmen who escaped from their planes after being shot down during bombing raids on Chichi Jima, a tiny island 700 miles south of Tokyo, in September 1944 – and was the only one to evade capture by the Japanese.

The horrific fate of the other eight “flyboys” was established in subsequent war crimes trials on the island of Guam, but details were sealed in top secret files in Washington to spare their families distress.

Mr. Bradley has established that they were tortured, beaten and then executed, either by beheading with swords or by multiple stab-wounds from bayonets and sharpened bamboo stakes. Four were then butchered by the island garrison’s surgeons and their livers and meat from their thighs eaten by senior Japanese officers.

Decades later, President Bush returned to the tiny Pacific island for a CNN documentary. He described his thoughts after escaping to Mr. Bradley. “Why had I been spared and what did God have in store for me? In my own view there’s got to be some kind of destiny and I was being spared for something on Earth.”

The young Lieutenant went on to marry Barbara, raise children and build a distinguished resume as a successful businessman, Congressman, UN Ambassador, Director of CIA, Vice President and the 41st President of the United States. His sacrifice was real; his lifetime of work in making America a better place is almost unmatched.

So it is a sad irony that President Bush’s health is failing—and perhaps his bright star is fading away—at this exact moment in time. Because we are at the dawn of a new era of sacrifice; a new era of difficult choices and struggle we expect from our leaders.

Yes, we are two days away from the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and the blood of sacrifice we expect from our presidents grows thinner still.

In July, following the appearance of Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Trump spoke of the things he’s given up, the hard things he’s done to make this country better. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Tasks not exactly equal to getting shot down in a war, but impressive nonetheless.

And in an interview aired this morning on Fox and Friends, President-elect Trump admitted that his incessant (and often early-morning) tweeting is not something done by choice, but rather a necessary chore. A sacrifice, if you will. From The Hill:

“Look, I don’t like tweeting,” Trump insisted during a Fox News interview scheduled to air Wednesday. “I have other things I could be doing.”

“But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract. When people make misstatements about me, I’m able to say it and call it out.”

Trump additionally promised he would reduce his Twitter activity once the press treats him more respectfully.

“Now if the press were honest, which it’s not, I would absolutely not use Twitter,” he told host Ainsley Earhardt on “Fox & Friends,” adding, “I wouldn’t have to.”

So, you see, as we approach one our nation’s most hallowed traditions, the peaceful transfer of power, these next few days are a time to reflect on the past and to pray for a brighter tomorrow. And whether one defines sacrifice as narrowly escaping a beheading, or tweeting insults at Meryl Streep as a means to “counteract,” it is those great acts of heroism that we’ve come to expect from our leaders.

Tonight I’ll pray for President Bush and Barbara, and offer a word of thanks for their lifetime of service. And I’ll pray for President-elect Trump, hoping that the sheer power and responsibility of the office he’s about to occupy—an office whose duties are in a continual state of construction, pieced together by honorable men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and yes, even George H.W. Bush—will humble him enough so that he can see with clear eyes the enormity of the task he has before him.

And if President Trump succeeds, in the words of President Bush, then maybe there was something in store for him, maybe it was some kind of destiny. If so, that will have been sacrifice enough.

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Travis Hale

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