What do you say when someone dies you never really liked? Very few Americans are wrestling with that quandary today when it comes to John McCain.
John McCain was one of the very most beloved people anywhere in public life. Republicans, Democrats, people who loathe everyone in politics — almost everyone had a soft spot for the crusty senator from Arizona, who died over the weekend after a valiant bout with brain cancer.
And the hosannas are still pouring in. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called him “a great American patriot.” “He really understood in the marrow of his bones what it meant to be an American,” said Hillary Clinton.” In the eyes of former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyle, who’d served with McCain from 1995 to 2013: “John was always there as a kind of conscience of the Senate.”
And he was. From his five-year stay at the Hanoi Hilton to his Straight Talk Express, from his refusal to countenance torture to his quixotic quest for campaign-finance reform, McCain was an inspiring throwback to a day when people could disagree and still not hate each other, when personal character actually meant something in Washington.
You know, before Donald Trump.
It was Trump who famously said of McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people that weren’t captured.” It was Trump who as recently as a week ago was mimicking McCain’s thumbs-down on Obamacare repeal.
Trump did everything he could to ignore the man, even failing to acknowledge him while signing a defense bill named for McCain.
White House flags were lowered to half-staff on Sunday. But Trump’s condolence tweet could hardly have been any stingier. It was exactly 21 words long. Despite the respectful tone, not one of those words contained an ounce of praise for John McCain. “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” Trump wrote. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”
Could the president have said any less? Like most of Trump’s feuds, this one goes on forever. Not even death can heal these wounds.
Ellis Henican is the author of a dozen books including TRUMPITUDE: The Secret Confessions of Donald’s Brain. Join Ellis on Twitter @henican.