Editorial: John McCain’s phlegmatic approach to political discourse in the age of insult

In response to a question during a campaign rally in 2008 prompting dispute over former presidential candidate Barack Obama’s “Arab” ethnicity, fellow candidate John McCain said, “No ma’am, he is a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

McCain’s death has conjured an incredibly wide array of bipartisan response in a seemingly unifying gesture of sympathy. Politicians from all parties, including McCain’s past political rivals, offered condolences to McCain’s family, and expressed dismay over his death. Senate Minority Leader and Democrat Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said, “Most of all, [McCain] was a truth teller—never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become all too rare.”

McCain, especially in his final years, had gained a reputation of class and respectability, for his reverent approach to debate, and also for his opposition to the starkly unbecoming manner of President Donald Trump’s typical public commentary. McCain has countered many of Trump’s most controversial comments in the past, including those regarding the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, about whom Trump made insulting comments relating to their Muslim heritage. To this, undeniably affected by his experiences as a prisoner of war, McCain said, “while our Party has bestowed upon [Trump] the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us … I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: thank you for immigrating to America.”

His funeral plans, which he helped to arrange before his death, are a resounding emblem of his prioritization of humanity over political party. Both George W. Bush and Obama, former presidents who impeded his obtention of the highest position in American politics, will offer eulogies during his funeral service. Trump, notably, was not invited.

McCain’s proclamation of bipartisan recognition from beyond the grave is profoundly powerful, and timely, in the midst of a political chasm so deeply ingrained in American politics.

In an age in which it often feels as if there is a lack of political professionalism and character, McCain was a class act. Some may not have agreed with his policy ideas, but he recognized the humanity of others when many, notably the current president, refused.

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