Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
In recent decades the former presidents and First Ladies have made a big show of their post–White House chumminess. In 2005, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush teamed up to raise money for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami; in 2009, all five living presidents had a lunch date; and in 2016, Michelle Obama hugged George W. Bush, to name just a few of their demonstrations of bipartisan goodwill. Then Donald Trump became president and ruined everything.
The Ex-Presidents Club wasn’t totally controversy free prior to Trump. (Plenty of people didn’t find Mobama rehabilitating W.’s image adorable.) But Trump’s presidency was so divisive, and his attacks on his predecessors were so rampant and vicious, that he now overshadows every event that calls for a gathering of former U.S. leaders.
Case in point: Tuesday’s tribute to Rosalynn Carter, who died last week at the age of 96. President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Clinton, and all five living First Ladies attended the service at at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory University. But the guest who drew the most attention — aside from former president Jimmy Carter, who emerged from hospice to pay tribute to his wife of 77 years — was Melania Trump.
Trump didn’t do anything inappropriate at the service, aside from leaving some X users with the impression that she didn’t wear black to the funeral (she was wearing a black-and-white patterned coat that appeared light in some photos). And the Carter family said Rosalynn was involved in the decision to invite her. “My mother was a gracious person and she would treat everybody with respect, including a former First Lady,” her son, Chip Carter, told the Washington Post.
But the mere presence of a Trump at the service was controversial. Donald has insulted Jimmy Carter many times over the years and did not stop even as the Carters’ health declined recently. At a rally in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on November 18, a day after the Carter family confirmed that Rosalynn had entered hospice care, he quipped, “The happiest person anywhere in this country right now is Jimmy Carter because his administration looked brilliant compared to these clowns.” He continued, “Compared to Biden, Jimmy Carter was a brilliant, brilliant president.”
Some argued that in light of the disrespect Trump has repeatedly shown the Carters, the Trumps had no business attending Rosalynn’s funeral. Others felt Melania was gracious for showing up. And sending Melania alone may have been the least offensive option; Donald Trump’s presence would have been an even bigger distraction, and if the Trumps stayed home they would have been accused of snubbing the Carters.
There’s no clear answer here; it seems we’re going to debate whether the Trumps should be included every time there’s a high-profile political event. Unfortunately, Emily Post doesn’t cover what to do when the former president is a boorish insurrectionist.