Will There Ever Be Another John McCain
Unless one has been living in a box, John McCain’s military record of suffering unspeakable torture for 5 1/2 years at the hands of the North Vietnamese as a POW when he could have taken advantage of privileged status as the son of an admiral to be released 3 1/2 years earlier (but chose not to in adherence to a code of honor) has deservedly achieved the status of legend. As courageous as John McCain was in his military service as naval fighter pilot, his record and career in service as United Stated Senator for 6 terms distinguished him among the most revered legislative leaders not only in the United States but internationally. His brand of politics was unique in his willingness and success in legislating across the isle, putting integrity and country over party, and earning him the title of Maverick of the Senate.
Senator McCain could disagree without being disagreeable, debated with decor and respect with those he disagreed with, and took the high road rather than resort to scorched earth negative campaigning that is so prevalent in today’s politics. In one of his most iconic moments emblematic of the type of politician John McCain was, during a presidential campaign town hall during his 2008 presidential run, after a lady took the mic and stated that she could not trust Senator Barack Obama because he was an Arab, Senator McCain was quick to take the mic and politely correct her, stating that Senator Obama was not an Arab and no one to be feared, but was a good and decent family man; simply a man he had many policy disagreements with. Some critics argued that Senator McCain in this moment did not go far enough and that he should have also stated that it is also okay to be an Arab, but in the spur of the moment, Senator McCain from my view made his point and showed his class and decor.
From a trade policy point of view, John McCain held a steadfast President Reagan like view in favor of unfettered international free trade guided and directed by free markets and rejected isolationist policies of trade war and rejection of international trade agreements. Also in Reagan fashion, McCain was strong in maintaining and expanding post World War II transatlantic alliances in opposition to the Soviet Union now resurgent in the corrupt virtual dictatorship of the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin. Senator McCain did not pull punches in being vocal about his opposition to Donald Trump’s tariffs and brewing trade wars, as well as his alienation and shunning of our NATO allies while simultaneously embracing Putin at their meeting in Helsinki (especially in light of Russia’ proven interference in our democracy in the 2016 election continuing through to the present).
The Republican base has clearly rejected the John McCain brand of conservatism in favor of Trump’s brand of scorched earth politics, slinging red meat, and never shirking the opportunity to go low. They have embraced Trump’s disregard and distrust of our allies, long standing trade agreements, and our institutions, and rationalize or disregard his most obscene moments and Tweets. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll put his approval rating among Republicans at 90%.
Polls aside, one needs only to take a look at Republican primary races across the country in 2018 to see the state of the Republican party. Every candidate is glowing in their praise of Trump and even emulating his behavior in their bids to win. Ironically, this is occurring in the special election in Arizona to replace the seat left vacant by John McCain, as well as the seat set to be vacated by moderate Republican who himself has been a vocal critic of Trump and is set to imminently retire.
To be sure, Trump and his brand of politics have an iron grip on the Republican party with even the likes of of McCain’s long time close friend Senator Lindsey Graham who is progressively warming to the President, now his regular golf companion and indicating in the media that he would be okay with the President choosing a new Attorney General that he has faith in (in other words, an Attorney General that will be the Trump’s toady that will reign in the Mueller investigation).
Graham and all of the other GOP Senators have remained virtually silent as Trump has publicly attacked their former Senate Colleague Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice. They have silently accepted Trump’s snub against the dying John McCain during his speech about the national defense bill named in McCain’s honor when Trump would not utter his name. They sit silently now, even Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s self professed great friend who supposedly loved John McCain dearly, as Trump refuses to make any mention of McCain’s life and legacy, only a Tweet expressing condolences to the McCain family with a picture of himself; raised the flag over the White House back to full staff yesterday morning before the national and Arizona state capitol buildings did (capitol building flags are remaining at half staff in observance of Senator McCain’s full observance is completed with ceremonial lying in state at both US and state capitols).
Clearly, these Senators are in lock step with Trump and his brand of conservatism, willing to look the other way while the Republican political winds are fully behind Trump. Should these hyper-partisan Trumpian primary candidates ultimately win in the general election, we can expect more of the same and worse.
So back to the original question, will there ever be another John McCain who could work with and together the likes of other Senate stalwarts across party lines like Senator Bob Dole, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Ted Kennedy, and others; even consider them among his closest friends? One can only hope, but it does not seem likely at least for the foreseeable future.
Many political philosophers opine credibly that in our republic form of democracy, we generally elect the leaders that reflect the electorate. In Hillary Clinton, Democrats elected a candidate that had the resume and connections to win the general election, but who carried decades of political baggage and a husband whose legacy is tarnished with his treatment of women. They went with her betting in her having the best chance to deliver them the White House again and lost their bet hugely in supporting probably the only candidate a man like Trump could possibly beat. Democrats got lulled into a state of status quo and are paying a dear price for it.
In Trump, Republicans saw two aspects that attracted them. The 2 terms of President Barack Obama rattled the Republican base to its core. His election justified their deep seeded, even subconscious xenophobic feelings about the election of an African American man whose father was Kenyan, whose name sounded so foreign. For others it was all about jobs and wages, as many Americans particularly in manufacturing were left behind in the recovery that took place during the Obama Administration as the result of globalization. Trump successfully stoked that anger in scapegoating immigrants and promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US through isolationism and they bought it hook, line, and sinker.
The jury is still out on how the Trump Presidency will affect candidates that Democrats will ultimately elect for general election, but their anger in experiencing the daily unrelenting doses of brutish rhetorical attacks, scandal, narcissistic, xenophobic, racist, autocratic, anti-immigrant and misogynistic behavior that has defined the Trump Administration; seems far more palpable than even that of the right in the wake of the election of President Obama. Will they become the party of Michael Avenatti who is rallying the Democrats to join Trump in the cesspit and go blow for blow with him, or will they take the high road of Michelle Obama who proclaimed “when they go low, we go high”?
There a lot of unknowns in what will shape the future of American politics with events that happen every day that can so rapidly change the narrative in a 24 hour news cycle. It is unfortunately hard to imagine that another unifying leader of the highest integrity like John McCain will emerge and bring back days when important work could actually get done by finding middle ground in a commitment to bipartisanship.
R.I.P. Senator McCain. You were an inspiration to your grateful country and an iconic example by which future leaders may emerge in your image.