McCain remembered

“We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.”

Sen. John McCain, accepting the 2017 Liberty Medal Award

If there were a club to honor All-American public officials, Sen. John McCain — the maverick Republican from Arizona who often butted heads with his own party — would get in on a first-ballot vote. An imperfect inductee, but worthy of enshrinement all the same, he certainly cannot be faulted for his love of country or service to it.

McCain was a patriot, a national hero and a decent man, and now he is gone. On Friday, his family announced that the senator, who for more than a year has been battling brain cancer, an aggressive glioblastoma, would no longer be treated for his condition. Late Saturday, he passed.

McCain will be missed — especially now given the tenor of our political discourse and leaders who have an aversion to truth or cower in the presence of tyranny. Who, now, will stand in the storm to defend American ideals and freedoms?

We did not always agree with McCain’s policy positions, especially his vote for the tax reform bill last December. But we did admire his sense of duty in speaking truth to power or to the masses when he saw the trains running off track. Especially impressive was his rebuttal of a woman at a campaign stop in Minnesota in 2008 when he was running for president against Barack Obama. She voiced her concern to the pernicious rumor that Obama was “an Arab” — part and parcel with the birtherism lie pushed by Donald Trump and dark forces of fear, anger, hate and resentment.

And here is what McCain said: “I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.”

Can you imagine the current occupant of the White House responding in similar fashion? Of course not. As proof, we have the tapes.

McCain was consistently a burr in President Trump’s saddle. But now, in the weeks and months ahead, who? As the president goes about demeaning the very American citizens he was elected to serve and lead, as he dehumanizes people — fellow citizens — by calling them a dog or a rat or worse, what influential Republican will have the temerity to stand and tell the mob boss president — emphatically — he is wrong and that his playground behavior is beyond the pale?

No part of the country — not even West Virginia which gave Trump 68 percent of its vote in the presidential election — stands free and clear of sharp and pronounced political divisions, is not touched or drawn into heated debate over the culture wars of race, religion and gender.

The president stokes the hate and rancor that is consuming the fabric of our society and, ultimately, destroying our democratic institutions.

And the GOP response?

They want him on the campaign trail this fall to stir and excite his base — damn the consequences for his divisive rhetoric.

We know the president is a boastful braggart and needy narcissist who lies, on average, about seven times a day. Remember, when he lies he’s doing that to the American public. That’s you.

In contrast to any such nauseous public appearance or detestable tweets the president has written since assuming office, consider the hopeful and aspirational language of McCain, a true statesman. At the Liberty Award ceremonies in 2017, McCain was talking about a Democrat, Joe Biden, who he served with in the Senate for some 20 years — a political foe, yes, but a friend, too.

“We often argued — sometimes passionately.

But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity.”

McCain considered his service to the country — some 60 years worth — as a privilege, of serving something greater than himself, of being “a bit player in the extraordinary story of America.”

Biden, who visited McCain at his Arizona home recently, said, “We talked about how our international reputation is being damaged and we talked about the need for people to stand up and speak out.” Indeed. But now that McCain has left the stage, just whom will that be?

Godspeed, Senator McCain. And thank you for your exceptional service to our country.

Exceptionalism. America. Imagine that.

— The Register-Herald

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