The news broke Saturday night that Arizona Senator and famed war hero John McCain has died from brain cancer at 81. Americans will spend the next few days remembering his extraordinary life and honoring his incredible sacrifice for his country.
If I am being completely honest, I thought John McCain to be one of the worst war mongers in recent American history, and for much of his career, a scourge on the US political system. This was the man who pushed America headfirst into an illegal, unnecessary war with Iraq, and foisted Sarah Palin upon the nation when he ran for president in 2008. His legacy, at least much of it, is not a good one. I have spoken out vociferously against McCain, and do not want to pretend otherwise.
But for now, I would prefer to remember the war hero who was tortured for five years after being captured in Vietnam, for what he did right, particularly during his last few months on earth.
McCain saved his best for last, and used what political capital he had accumulated over the years to resist the bigotry and hatred of Donald Trump — a man he clearly saw as an existential threat to the country he loved so dearly. He did this at a time when almost every active Republican refused to stand up to Trump — an act of defiance and genuine patriotism that has given much of the resistance hope for the future of America.
The McCain Who Stood Up To Trump
After the infamous tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women was released on the campaign trail in 2016, McCain immediately announced he would not be voting for the Republican nominee.
"I have wanted to support the candidate our party nominated. He was not my choice, but as a past nominee, I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference," McCain said.
"But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy."
McCain stated that he and his wife, Cindy, would not be voting for him under any circumstances.
"We will write in the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be president," he said.
In October 2017, McCain also took a thinly veiled shot at the president for his avoidance of military service, no doubt partly in response to Trump's earlier comments that he liked war heroes "who weren't captured".
“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain during the interview with C-SPAN, clearly referencing Trump's excuse for deferring five times. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”
McCain also bucked his party to prevent the death of Obamacare, crucially voting with the Democrats to stop it from being dismantled -- an act that millions of vulnerable Americans who would have had no health insurance can be thankful for.
“We are an important check on the powers of the Executive," McCain said on the Senate floor the day after the vote. "Our consent is necessary for the President to appoint jurists and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal.”
McCain also attacked Trump mercilessly on his foreign policy and unwillingness to stand up to Vladimir Putin, tweeting and speaking out regularly about the president's attempts to dismantle Western alliances and the post World War II global order:
An extraordinary legacy
This does of course, represent only a small fraction of McCain's life as a public servant, and over the coming days much more will be written about him by us and the media around the world -- and deservedly so. McCain's legacy is, whether you agreed with him or not, an extraordinary one.
There is however, little else I want to say about the man. After over a decade of writing mostly negatively about him, I would prefer to end it on this note. His resistance to the bigotry and racism sweeping through America right now is how I, and many on the left will want to remember him.
So Rest In Peace, Senator, and may your family find theirs in this life.