Last year, President Trump made headlines for not totally understanding how that one handshake thing worked at the ASEAN Summit.
But as awkward as that handshake was, it wasn’t the most embarrassing thing a U.S. president has ever done in Asia; while the jury is still out, a strong contender for that distinction may belong to Former President George H. W. Bush.
On this day in 1992 — 26 years ago — President Bush was in the middle of his 12-day trip through Asia, making nice with the higher-ups in Japan. Not feeling well, he had just lost a tennis match against the Emperor of Japan earlier that day and, by evening, was clearly getting worse, excusing himself in the middle of an important receiving line to go to the bathroom and puke.
When presented with what had been the contents of their stomachs only several minutes prior, most people would cancel any plans and call it a day — which is precisely what Bush’s attending physician told him to do. But Bush, bound to his presidential duty, flushed those naysayers away, along with his lunch, and headed back into the state banquet.
Unfortunately, that would be his undoing.
Perhaps the second course — raw salmon and caviar — didn’t agree with him. Perhaps he’d missed his flu shot that year. Whatever the case may be, as he waited for the third course — grilled beef with peppery sauce — President Bush, the color drained from his face, slumped back into his chair and fainted. His body listed left, and, rolling into Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s lap, he vomited.
Panic ensued. A secret service agent vaulted over the table to catch him as he fell. Former First Lady Barbara Bush, normally stoic, looked horrified as she rushed to his side, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa cradled his dinner guest’s head, Bush’s dinner all over his trousers. And President Bush, slowly regaining his consciousness, muttered to his physician, “Roll me under the table until the dinner’s over.”
As quickly as the moment came, the moment passed; Bush, after being helped up by secret service members, offered a fist pump in a show of recovery to the applause of worried dinner guests. Although the lone camera in the room captured the entire incident, Japanese media, perhaps in an effort to help the American president save face, did not initially air the footage. American media, however, would not be as kind.
The incident made its way to every home in the U.S., the image of their embarrassed president forever seared into their memories. In a way, it helped some of his detractors define the depressing economic state — a weak USA travelling to Japan to beg for jobs, only to expose how sickly the country truly was. For many Americans, it was painful to watch. For the president? It was one of the final nails in his re-election coffin, his second term dreams shattered.
While the event left a sour taste in American mouths, the Japanese remembered President Bush’s stomach-churning incident more humorously. For years to come, the phrase “Bush-suru“, meaning “to do the Bush thing” entered the Japanese nightlife vocabulary, used to describe a situation in which a person lost their lunch (usually by over-drinking).
Looks like President Trump has some catching up to do.
Featured Image via YouTube / MarcoEsc