On Saturday afternoon, August 25, Arizona Senator John McCain succumbed to a malignant brain tumor he battled for nearly a year. In his passing, McCain has inspired praise from both sides of the aisle for his decades of statesmanship and service to the United States.
First rising to prominence as a prisoner of war, McCain enjoyed modest notoriety in the United States even before he threw his hat into the political arena in the 1980s. As a Senator for Arizona for more than thirty years, McCain became one of the most influential (and universally adored) politicians on the planet. His decisions may have ranged from controversial to celebratory, but they always came from a place of deep introspection and an undying commitment to improving the state of America. Plus, one of his last acts on Earth was to make Donald Trump look like a complete fool, and that’s just funny as f$!k.
Even in death, John McCain’s legacy is one that shines a light on the best of us while exposing political hypocrisy at its worst. For proof of that, we only need to pay attention to the drama unfolding in the wake of McCain’s passing and the people stepping forward to express their sincere regret at his death.
.@SenJohnMcCain lived a life of service to his country, from his heroism in the Navy to 35 years in Congress. He was a tough politician, a trusted colleague, and there will simply never be another like him. My thoughts and prayers are with Cindy and his entire family.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 26, 2018
Both Sides of the Aisle Mourned McCain’s Loss
Obviously, when someone as big as McCain dies, it’s absolutely required that modern politicians say something just to have said it. Case in point, this tweet from Donny J:
My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018
Though he used the word “sympathies,” this kind of rote post feels like, well, total bullshit. Perhaps that’s why the tweet itself was met with responses like this, which gets extra credit for using the hashtag #CadetBoneSpurs:
— Richard Granstaff 🇺🇸 (@RichGranstaff) August 31, 2018
So, that one piece of half-assed political posturing aside, some of McCain’s contemporaries had some lovely things to say. Elizabeth Warren said she never doubted where McCain’s heart was.
John McCain and I disagreed on many things, and sometimes quite forcefully. But even when we disagreed, I always respected that his heart was focused on doing what he thought was best for the American people.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 26, 2018
Paul Ryan called McCain a ‘giant of our time.’
John McCain was a giant of our time—not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life. He will always be listed among freedom’s most gallant and faithful servants.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 26, 2018
Even McCain’s ex-running mate, that dummy from Alaska, found the right words to celebrate the man.
Today we lost an American original. Sen. John McCain was a maverick and a fighter, never afraid to stand for his beliefs. John never took the easy path in life – and through sacrifice and suffering he inspired others to serve something greater than self.
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) August 26, 2018
Former President George W. Bush also tweeted a beautiful sentiment (isn’t that guy just the best post-office?).
"Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.” […] Full statement by President George W. Bush https://t.co/FQVYWIUyGL pic.twitter.com/W8LCxJXRLi
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) August 26, 2018
Hollywood Got in On the Action, Too
Amid the crowd of celebrities who voiced their heartache at the loss of the Senator from Arizona, some astounding voices rose to the fore to shine a light on a man who will be missed.
Outspoken liberal Whoopi Goldberg never felt that the Senator stopped “trying to do his best.”
Senator John McCain passed today, all i can think about..he never stopped trying to do his best. What an honor it’s been to know him. My condolences to the family he loved and adored and to his daughter & my friend @MeghanMcCain…from all my family, much love
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) August 26, 2018
Author and avid Trump-hater Stephen King summed up John McCain’s legacy gorgeously by highlighting a moment from the 2008 election in which McCain shut down one of his supporters for making a racist comment about Obama.
John McCain's finest moment (for me) came in 2008, when a woman at a rally referred to Obama as an Arab. "No, ma'am," McCain replied. "He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with." That's manning up.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) August 26, 2018
All that respect is — to put it mildly — profoundly deserved. Throughout his career, McCain established himself as an unwavering moralist and, to be frank, kind of a badass. Right up until the very end, McCain defied expectation and allowed himself to be guided by his own ethical compass.
I mean, just check out how McCain went out.
McCain’s Last Renegade Act Was Perfect
On the Saturday that John McCain was laid to rest, his funeral was attended by dignitaries from around the world. The sitting President of the United States, however, was a no-show. Not because he snubbed the prominent Republican, but because John McCain made it clear that he didn’t want Trump anywhere near his memorial service.
So, while political luminaries gathered to mourn the passing of an old-school American, Trump hit the links.
Maybe John McCain just didn’t want his funeral attended by a man who refuted his reputation as a war hero “because he was captured.” At the time, draft-dodging Trump had the gargantuan balls to add, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Oh, about that capture …
As a POW, McCain Turned Down an Early Release Opportunity
Most able-bodied Americans have some inkling that, as a young man, John McCain served time as a prisoner of war. However, there’s more to the story. When he began running missions over Hanoi in 1967, John McCain was a third-generation Naval officer whose father and grandfather were both four-star admirals.
When McCain was captured, the North Vietnamese considered him a prize prisoner. To gain leverage over the other prisoners and the US Army as a whole, McCain was offered his freedom. In spite of daily torture and abuse, McCain turned them down.
As McCain later recalled, “I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral’s son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America’s class-conscious society.”
Definitely a guy you want to criticize.
A Legacy We Can All Aspire To
At his funeral, some of McCain’s staunchest political allies took the stage to eulogize their friend (and foe) and use his example to call for a shift in the American political landscape.
In one particularly stirring tribute, Joe Biden called attention not to McCain’s politics, but to his commitment to the fundamental values that unite us.
However, it was former President Barack “God, it Hurts to Write ‘Former’ in Front of His Name” Obama who perhaps summed up John McCain’s legacy best when he spoke at the Senator’s memorial service.
“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insults and phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Obama said. “It is a politics that pretends to be brave, and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger and better than that.”
Yeah, it was probably for the best that Trump wasn’t invited.