At 11:00 am on August 25, Republican Senator John Sidney McCain, one of America’s most prominent public officials, passed away at the age of 81.
His diagnosis of brain cancer was made public in July, 2017. While there was hope that he would overcome his illness, the news of him discontinuing his treatment on August 24th of this year came as no surprise. Nevertheless, Americans were still shocked when just a day later their television screens informed them of the Senator’s death. Millions of Americans mourned the loss of one of their great national treasures.
McCain was not merely some career politician. McCain is recognized by the public as a war hero for the five-and-a-half years he spent as a POW (Prisoner of War) in Vietnam. In 1983 he became a Congressman until his death. Despite McCain failing twice in his endeavors of becoming President, few voices carried more weight in government than his.
The man represented an era that seems distant and nostalgic in today’s political climate. An era of chivalry and decency. An era where country came first and party second. An era of intolerance towards the abuse of power. McCain focused on what he and his rivals had in common instead of their political disagreements. In the Senate, he saw compromise as a necessity for a healthy democracy.
Towards the end of his life, McCain was frustrated and discouraged. In his book Restless Wave, the senator believed that partisan politics was destroying the civility and virtue of American culture.
McCain’s concerns were probably most strongly voiced when he came back to the senate after having his first brain surgery. On July 27, 2017, John McCain cast a thumbs down vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill—a bill that would have repealed and replaced Obamacare. With the votes being 49-50, the Republicans needed his vote. His thumbs down was the deciding vote on whether or not the bill would pass. While the Democrats were jubilant that he voted no, the Republicans in the Senate, and indeed across the country, felt betrayed and resented him.
McCain gave several reasons for why he did not vote with the rest of his party. For one, the bill was terrible. Not only would the bill leave millions of Americans that had become dependent on Obamacare uninsured, insurance companies in many states would once again be able to charge people more for pre-existing conditions. What the Republicans were offering was not a good solution. McCain believed that they could do better.
But more importantly, McCain believed that he could not, “in good conscience” vote for the bill because it had not gone through, “regular order”. In other words, the senator opposed the process. He resented the Republican-held Congress and the President for doing what the Democrats did in 2008—forcing legislation through a unified opposition with little to no debate or hearings. Had Republicans cooperated more with the Democrats and added more amendments to the piece of legislation, McCain would have considered the bill.
In the midst of his death, a miracle ensues. Republicans and Democrats have ceased callous political discourse to honor the life and the legacy their colleague left behind. On August 30, Congress laid his body in state inside the Capitol Hill Building, an honor only given to 31 other individuals since the founding of the US government. Along with the nation’s top elected officials, thousands of countrymen came to pay their respects.
On August 31, the Senator was moved to the Washington Cathedral for the funeral. There, many prominent former and present officials such as former presidents and members of the current Trump administration were present. At McCain’s request, George Bush and Barrack Obama, two of his most renowned former political adversaries, gave eulogies for his funeral service. Both former Presidents stated that regardless of the disagreements and fights with the old senator, McCain fought past their rivalries to develop personal relationships with them.
While McCain may have questioned their judgments, he never questioned their character or motives. Both Bush and Obama concluded that McCain not only made the Senate better, but he made them better Presidents by the example he had set. This moment of bipartisanship was made incomplete by the absence of one individual—President Donald Trump. The President’s excuse was that he was needed to help raise money for Republican Congressmen who were running tight races. However, the President’s personal feud with the Senator was probably the reason for why he did not attend the funeral.
In 2015, the then-Republican-candidate Donald Trump mocked the senator during an interview for being captured by the enemy. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Unlike previous rivalries McCain has had in the past, the one with President Trump was not just political—it was personal. The Senator did not see Donald’s comments as just an attack on him, but all POWs who had suffered captivity for their country. Up until Trump’s election as the Republican nominee for President, McCain was among the #NeverTrump Republicans. Trump’s character, in McCain’s estimation made him unfit to be President.
Since the beginning of Trump’s Presidency, McCain maintained his status as the chief Republican critic of the Trump administration. The Senator condemned the populist patriotism that Trump is fuelling—stating that, “half-baked spurious nationalism…is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” McCain was also one of the first senators from either party to demand investigations into the possible collusion between Trump and the Russians during the 2016 election. McCain furthermore ardently defended the press from Trump’s attacks stating, “The first thing that dictators do is shut down the press… we need to learn the lessons of history.”
No sooner had John McCain passed than the media started to focus on honouring McCain’s legacy. The media knows that the country needs to admire and appreciate the life and legacy of one of the most influential American Congressman that has ever lived. His character is representative of the American spirit that has led this country into greatness. Honouring a man who has sacrificed so much and lived so honorably should be the focus of the American people.
Trump’s lack of empathy for McCain was not only disrespectful to the man and his family, but he failed in his duty as President to honour a public servant who has served this country for over sixty years. Trump’s failure to set aside their differences for the betterment of the country might cost him dearly. Republicans such as Lindsey Graham were outraged.
Congressmen in Trump’s party have become more willing to work with Democrats, and bolder in their confrontation with Trump. This should cause Trump to be nervous. If impeachment comes and there is hard evidence that is presented, the President will not be able to maintain his Presidency by counting on his party’s control of the House and the Senate.
Author: Zane Merkle
Zane Merkle currently studies Political Science and has worked as a Research assistant at a Fundamental Christian University called Cedarville. He identifies as an evangelical conservative and plans on commissioning as a marine officer in the United States military after graduating in 2019.