Speaking Ill of the Dead

John McCain’s casket in the rotunda of the U.S.. Capitol, August 31, 2018.

Who disses a dead man? A man who died seven months ago? A war hero and a revered public servant? Who does that? The president of the United States — a small-minded, mean-spirited man — that is who.

“I gave him the funeral that he wanted, which as president, I had to approve,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a thank you — that’s okay. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.” Like most of what Trump utters, this statement is confusing, wrong, and misleading. Senator McCain was buried at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy. His body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol the Friday before his burial, and a memorial service was held for the Vietnam war hero at the National Cathedral in Washington. 

John McCain’s casket carried from a U.S. military plane.

Donald Trump had nothing to do with any of that. Trump probably meant his approval of the use of a military transport to bring McCain’s body from his native Arizona to the nation’s capital, which is not the same thing as authorizing the whole funeral, though Trump appears to be trying to take credit for that, as well. 

And who should thank the president? A little late for McCain, even if the famously outspoken senator would have wanted to thank the president. As for McCain’s family, why would they? The president did not go out of his way to authorize the use of military plane, only agreeing to do so under pressure. Did Trump expect a big thank you from Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife? Not likely, given the nasty comments Trump made about her husband.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain lies injured in North Vietnam.

Trump first showed his animosity to McCain in 2000 when Trump was considering a run for president. While sizing up the field of potential opponents, Trump prefigured his later attacks on McCain. “You would say that maybe he wasn’t an actual war hero,” said the New Jersey casino owner who had five deferments during the Vietnam War, including one for bone spurs in his heels. “He was captured, but maybe not a war hero.” Trump hammered that theme barely a month into his 2016 presidential campaign. “[McCain]’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Many thought at the time — July 2015 — that such a gratuitous attack on a man who was tortured as a prisoner of war and spent more than five years in the “Hanoi Hilton” would sink Trump’s campaign. It did not, and neither did all of Trump’s other outbursts of boorish behavior: His insults of the Khans, whose son died while serving in the American military; his mocking of a disabled reporter; his boasts of grabbing women by the genitals; the list goes on, but none of it seemed to matter in the end to his supporters.

Trump attacking John McCain during an appearance at an Army tank plant in Lima, Ohio, Wednesday.

There were more Trumpian jabs at McCain, including repeatedly mocking McCain’s academic record, and McCain hit back as well, including his famous thumbs down on repealing and replacing Obamacare. But, the issue is not Trump’s insulting McCain, whose reputation will withstand the attacks of the small man who now occupies the White House. Besides, legitimate criticisms of living and dead public figures are permissible. McCain did many wonderful things, but putting Sarah Palin in the national limelight was not one of them. No, the real issue is why some people continue to look the other way, continue to either support the mental and moral midget in the White House or make excuses for him.

The Washington Post provided a glimpse of some Trump supporters at an Ohio rally in which the president attacked McCain. One attendee said, “I can understand what [Trump] is saying, but I don’t know that it was totally necessary to explain all that to every single person here.” Only partially necessary, I guess. Another rally-goer put it more bluntly: “We’ve got a president up there right now that has backbone. And we’re sorry if we hurt a few feelings, if that’s the way it is, but we’ve got to be strong again.” The old “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” argument, I suppose. 

This is the vaunted Trump base that will never abandon the president, no matter what he does or says. I have commented on this before, but for these people the policies hardly matter (in fact, if they gave it a moment’s consideration, they would realize Trump’s policies affect them adversely). Rather, they see Trump as a strong leader with “backbone” who is not afraid to be politically incorrect and who is willing to stand up to the so-called “Eastern elites.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Then, there are the pusillanimous Republicans in Congress. Most disgusting of all is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s best friend in the Senate, his “amigo.” “[McCain]’s an American hero, and nothing will ever change that in my eyes. I want to help this president, I want him to be successful,” Graham said. “I think the president’s comments about Senator McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Senator McCain.” Nice, but not exactly a full throttle defense of his friend. With friends like this….

A few other Republicans have half-heartedly criticized the president. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky posted a tweet praising McCain but not mentioning Trump. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson called Trump’s attack on McCain “deplorable.” But, when asked if he favored some kind of rebuke of the president, Isakson said. “I’m not going to answer the question the way it was phrased because the [headline] would be, ‘Isakson supports rebuking the President,’ and I’m not going to do that.”

And, that is the problem: Until enough Republicans are willing to rebuke the president, he will not change. Congressional Republicans enable Trump, enable him to attack revered former colleagues like McCain, enable him to get away with corruption and unconstitutional acts. I understand their fear of being “primaried” by some diehard Trumpian if they stand up to the president, but, at some point, people of good will have to say, “Enough is enough.”  

If, that is, they are people of good will.

Posted March 22, 2019

Comments are closed.