A major public figure has succumbed to brain cancer. And now another round of the American bloodsport of ‘who can be shittiest?’ is underway.
A petulant President Donald Trump has made it clear that Senator John McCain’s death will not bring an end to his scorn. The typical chief executive statement of condolence was squashed. A Tweet and an Instagram post (featuring a photo of Trump) will have to suffice. The flag atop the White House is no longer at half-mast.
History is being re-written to unabashedly sing the praises of “the maverick” and “the last real Republican.” McCain’s existence, as is true with most larger than life figures, was more complicated than that. It is, alas, too easy to fixate on some good deeds when the political world is awash with evil. The late Senator’s empathetic qualities do not negate his willingness to follow his party’s descent into madness most of the time.
And then there are those who complain about the 17% of the time he disagreed with Trump.
Fox News commenters on the company’s website were calling for John McCain to “burn in hell” just hours after his death. Trump has “only the best people.” Sad.
— James Kosur (@JamesKosur) August 27, 2018
48 hours after John McCain dies of cancer, the woman running for his seat declares… https://t.co/DQrOu2xLUQ
— Holly Figueroa O’Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) August 27, 2018
Outside of the mass media bubble and Fox News haters, there are people also willing to point out McCain’s complicity in promoting the nation’s military-industrial sector, various foreign interventions, and GOP orthodoxy concerning the destruction of the institutions created to take the rough edges off injustice and inequality.
Here’s Paul Bliest at Splinter with some of the receipts:
Because a solemn respect for war and soldiers is the most bipartisan area of agreement in this country, McCain’s history as a prisoner who was tortured during the Vietnam War is the topline of his obituary. It is largely the reason he was able to have a career in politics in the first place. McCain unquestionably experienced great suffering in Vietnam; whatever your thoughts on the war, his time there is a real and substantial part of his legacy. But we cannot forget that, despite such a deeply personal experience with the brutality of an unnecessary war, McCain was the Iraq War’s biggest, loudest cheerleader outside of the Bush administration, using his war hero status to lend credence to the invasion and subjecting another generation of soldiers to another horrible, pointless conflict…
…Despite recognizing that this adventure in regime change which helped to destabilize an entire region and resulted in the deaths of well over a million people was a “mistake,” however, McCain decided not to take the lessons of that colossal failure with him. He continued his nearly career-long desire for a war with Iran by praising President Donald Trump’s “strategy” in sabotaging the Iran nuclear deal. (It says much that the last honor of McCain’s life which was bestowed up on him was his fellow senators’ decision to name the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019after him.)
The Iran deal was not the only time where McCain found common cause with Trump, with whom he’s feuded for years. Unlike his role in sinking the repeal of Obamacare, McCain was one of the key votes to support the Trump tax bill last December, which will undeniably hurt any American who isn’t very rich. His vote for a hastily written bill that will drastically increase the deficit also came after over a decade of concern trolling about the deficit and months of pleading for a return to “regular order” in the Senate.
The tax law McCain voted for also killed the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, the same law McCain had gotten so much credit for saving just months earlier.
McCain also helped Trump put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, whining that Democrats might try to block him after McCain himself said during the 2016 campaign that the Republicans would be unified in blocking anyone Hillary Clinton might put up for the job. In all, McCain voted with the Trump administration’s stated position 83 percent of the time, despite the fact that he has known for over a year that he was dying and would not ever have to face angry Republican primary voters again.
Those critical of McCain’s politics are factually right more than not. I’m not convinced that some of this righteous indignation amounts to much more than preaching to the choir.
There has been an outburst of anger in social media by people who can see past the ‘hero’ mantra and want to place him in the broader context of racism and oppression.
Those folks living with the fear of deportation and systemic oppression don’t have the time or inclination to separate the good from the bad when they have a literal or metaphoric boot on their throats.
Reading through all the posts in social media there were a couple of commonalities (yes, there were exceptions) in the uncritical commentaries about McCain:
**Those folks tended to be older.
**Those folks were mostly white.
It’s true most humans become more sentimental as they progress through life. It’s also true that our viewpoints are shaped by the place we occupy in society. Setting aside the issue of respectfulness for the moment, I think it’s important to hear and understand what may seem like blasphemy to a lot of folks on the right side of the tracks.
I’ve anonymized some social media quotes in the (probably vain) hope of discouraging ad hominem attacks in the comments.
On the tone policing going on in social media:
“Here’s our reality, that you dismiss so easily with your rant. His hateful immigration policies directly affect my wife and my children. I watch the trauma my children suffer every day, knowing that their mother can be picked up and deported any time. I watch the trauma my wife suffers every day knowing she can be seperated from her children at any time. His daughter is on tv every day spewing hate. Why am I required to respect her feelings when she has zero issue with wrecking my family? You show a callous disrespect and disregard for my family and millions of other families directly affected by his hate and his daughter’s hate. Maybe instead of tone policing me and others from your privileged status, you might show a bit of empathy for us, for our reality, for my wife and my children and for the millions of others touched by his hate. Your tone policing comes across very poorly to people living our reality.”
Here’s another approach seen on Facebook:
It’s OK to want to show sympathy to the people who loved and respected John McCain
It’s equally OK to prefer to show sympathy to the people who loved and respected the people who McCain killed directly in Vietnam or who were killed as a consequence of the wars and military actions that he supported. You may not know them, they may not look like you, but they are human beings all the same.
Understand the pain of the victims – which include whole nations – as much as the pain of his family members.
And another from a somebody who views this through the lens of being a veteran:
John McCain was a complicated figure. It is not surprising that people have complicated and even hostile views towards him. If you honor his service then you have to remember that one of the things that he swore to uphold is the Constitution and in that constitution is the freedom of speech.
For every one who decries Sen. McCain for his controversial worldview and record, for every one who honors his passing; The fact that we have the right to express those views is the America that we are supposed to believe in and if we can’t do that without resorting to intimidation and aggression then really who are we?
As for me, I will not place the man on a pedestal nor will I take this moment to dance on his grave. I do not begrudge anyone who does either. My view is that history will judge his legacy and god his soul.
May those affected by this news find peace and solace.
The nation’s rush to enshrine market forces as the sole arbiter of what’s right and wrong with the world brings with it a dangerous philosophical and moral shift, namely the suppression of empathy as a desirable component of human behavior.
While sharp criticism and truth-telling are important parts of the honesty we should expect from advocates for social and political change, it’s also important to keep in mind the need to build connections with the politically naive or unaware people around us.
Personally, I had no intention of writing an obit/commentary on Senator John McCain. I didn’t have much good to say other than rest in peace and didn’t see the point in saying anything more.
Now I recognize that point of view came from my privilege.
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