John McCain Schools Trump With Messages For All of Us

Stephen Rockwell • 2 September 2018
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John McCain meticulously planned his funeral ceremonies in a way that would both honor his life and bring the country together.  There were messages that various audiences needed to hear, though perhaps not all messages that McCain intended to deliver.  

To the Elite Political Classes...

If the country was not brought together by McCain's funeral and memorials, at the least the elite political classes were.  The folks at the wheel of our democracy have seemingly lost their way in the Trump Era, rendered impotent by know-nothing anti-intellectualism within the Republican Party and a corportist rot of Democratic Party that offers only tepid responses sanitized by monied interests that  are unaligned with the working people who make up the party.  

Trump has laid bare the failings of both parties, but he has also sought to undermine our institutions that have enjoyed broad support from Americans and consistent tending from both parties.  An independent judiciary, the rule of of law over personality, our law enforcement and intelligence institutions are valued elements that make up our democracy.  The elite, especially within the Republican Party, refuses to offer even a modicum of resistance and often cheerleads Trump as he breaks down basic political norms and institutions that two and a half centuries of strife and compromise built.  The consistent message from every speaker at every ceremony was that "We are better than this.  America is better than the Trump era politics."  The basic political norms of our democracy are worth fighting for and we need a few more Maverick Republicans and courageous Democrats to refuse to go any further in undermining our democracy.  (By the way, this resistance includes refusing to seat a Supreme Court Justice nominated by a President under investigation.) 

To Trump....

The overt message to Trump was clear: you are not invited because you are debasing our democracy with your lack of decency, constant childish tweet-taunting, and fascist proclivities.  Megan McCain's daughter gave the strongest rebuke:

We gather to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly. Nor the opportunistic appropriation of those that live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.

Yep, that's pretty clear.  Ivanka and Jared sat in a huge crowd in which they were personas non gratas.  They have a lifetime of that ahead of themselves thanks to her father. 

All funerals though have a deeper meaning that I doubt very seriously connected with Trump.  Trump is on the wrong side of 70 and has many more days behind him than ahead of him.  Does a man with such a tremendous ego worry about how he will be remembered?  Does he prepare for that eventuality?  Perhaps his ego won't let him see his own morality or think to deeply about it.  As a Christian, I believe no one is beyond redemption.  There's a lot of redeeming though that Trump has to do so he might think about getting started sooner rather than later.  

To Trumpers...

I don't know why, but I find myself shocked by Trumpers who choose to eat up his cheap egomaniacal slop that is really more hero worship than patriotism, as opposed to the true blue patriotism of one of their own.  McCain is a Republican of the Reagan variety, a veteran, a war hero, a hawk. 

Trumpers, Did you hear any of his messages about how we are better than this as a nation?  Did you hear what true sacrifice for the nation means?  Did you hear McCain's warnings about not embracing despotism, whether Putin in Russia or the tweeter in the White House?  You all voted for this guy for President 10 years ago.  Perhaps upon his death, it is worth taking another opportunity to listen to what he's saying.  

Trump fans continue to have a choice between the American ideals to which the nation was founded and hero worship of a man who really cares less about you or anyone else in his life who doesn't serve his purposes to pump his ego or line his pockets.  You are following a bad person.  Deep down you must know that only by looking at a day of tweets. You would not accept your child acting in such a manner.  Hold your leader to a higher standard, a standard like the example of John McCain.

To Progressives...

Let me say that I agree with my fellow progressives that John McCain advocated for the military option too often in how to resolve the world's conflicts.  I frequently disagreed with his conservative domestic policies as well, though was sometimes enamored when he stretched across the aisle to work in a bipartisan manner on campaign finance, earmarks, and immigration reform.  I can appreciate the man's courage, decency, and commitment to building a better republic and world, without agreeing with him or his hawkish worldview.  He came from a long line of military leaders, fought himself, and suffered as a POW.  Should we expect anything other than a hawk with such a background?

In our complicated world and with flawed and complicated human beings, we sometimes have to hold seemingly opposing positions that may both may be true.  I have seen the criticism that innocent folk die as a result of such hawkish US foreign policy.   This is true and not to be excused, especially in Iraq, where McCain cheered the rush to war.  This was no blind allegiance to some fabricated right wing patriotism.  McCain raked the military brass, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others on the coals for poor planning leading to more innocent lives lost.  He put himself in harm's way countless times not only visiting US soldiers but visiting victims of human rights abuses from totalitarian regimes the world over.  We can disagree and indeed denounce unnecessary US military interventions like Iraq, and we can appreciate McCain's expression of idealism that the US must stand for democracy and human rights and support others in their struggles for such uplift of the human condition.

Many of us have not yet come to terms as to what is the appropriate role of military intervention living in the Pax Americana with the world's more powerful military supported and led by folks who come from our communities and often our families.  McCain presents an unsettling set of arguments that using might to take on despots and human rights abusers is more often than not our nation's responsibility.  There is some merit to thinking that we have such responsibility.  Certainly, historical contexts like fighting the Civil War or Nazism in WWII seem to fit the bill of requiring us to justly use the military.  Vietnam and Iraq demonstrate though that McCain's and other hawk's orientation to military can have disastrous consequences including the life of thousands of innocent lives.  

As such, I don't believe we can make blanket statements about the use of military force, but rather each situation requires different moral and political calculations.  The re-emergence of Putin and Russia and increased autocratic behavior in a number of counties, including our own, reminds us that there are principles and institutions like our independent judiciary, free and fair elections, or our NATO alliances that we deeply value and perhaps took for granted.  These institutions were formed out of a conflict, both military violence and civil strife. 

Our current dark political climate and working at a pacifist organization has sharpened my saw on this and strengthened my belief in just war theory.  There are ideals both worth living into and indeed dying for. In that way, perhaps I believe we can appreciate the idealism of McCain that might can right the world's wrongs. However, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. In the twenty-first century, we need to readjust our thinking beyond McCain's to use the other, more creative tools of coercion, dialogue, and alliance building and leave the military as a true last resort to use not in every noble causes, but only when our fundamental values are at stake and once every other tool is fully exhausted. 

I would have enjoyed having this debate with John McCain and I would have shook his hand in respect after the vote.  This is the politics that Americans are seeking.