Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Will the Death of John McCain Help Bring About the End of Trump?


From all accounts it's clear that John McCain's brain cancer has spread beyond the point of treatment. It is no longer a matter of if but when he will succumb. Friends of the senator have stopped by his Arizona ranch to wish him well. Like Ted Kennedy before him, the nation will mourn his passing.

For myself, I often think back to that moment in 2000 when McCain and Bill Bradley vied for the Republican and Democratic nominations. Both men were fiercely independent politicians, unbeholden to the partisan politics that were strangling Washington, and each offered the nation a truly genuine choice. I often wonder what might've been had they won their respective party's nominations. Just imagine what a debate between Bradly and McCain would've looked like. Given what took place between George Bush and Al Gore, my heart aches.

But while that John McCain was a true maverick, the one who decided to run for president again in '08 was anything but. True, he elected not to go gutter against Barack Obama, even going so far as to correct a woman at one of his rallies who questioned Obama's patriotism. But McCain's decision to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate was not only his undoing in the general election, for many it called into question his judgment. In the decade since, he has never lived down that decision.

Maybe that was why he finally expressed remorse in his memoir over his VP choice. While stopping short of criticizing Palin, he lamented his decision not to go with his initial instinct and pick Connecticut senator - and personal thorn in the side of Democrats - Joe Lieberman. We'll never know for certain whether it would've made any difference in the outcome, but one thing's for certain: the nation would've been spared from having to endure her never-ending assault on the senses. Palin's meteoric rise within the conservative movement helped set the table for the anti-intellectual, nativist elements that have taken over the GOP and brought us to the age of Trump. For those who say Trump is an anomaly, I disagree; he's the culmination of a decade's long quest to purge the Republican Party of any vestige of its once storied existence.

No doubt McCain regrets his role in creating this monster; deep down, he knows there's nothing he can do to undo the damage he helped unleash. But perhaps there is a way he can make amends. He's already taken the first step by letting it be known that he does not want Donald Trump to attend his funeral. You don't disrespect a man as much as Trump did and then have the audacity to show up at his wake. McCain then said he wanted Obama and Bush - the two men who denied him the White House - to deliver eulogies.

But more than just who attends his funeral or who gives the eulogy, McCain's death could awaken a new era of camaraderie in Washington, thus granting him the absolution that eluded him in life. With all the talk about the energy on both the left and the right, the real hope for the country resides in the center. Men like McCain knew that all too well. Maybe that's why he implored his long-time friend Joe Biden to "not walk away" from politics. Whether Biden decides to run for president in 2020 or not, he can be a power of example for those who do. Whoever defeats Trump - and he must be defeated - is going to inherit a fractured and deeply broken political system. He or she will have little choice but to reach across the aisle.

John McCain's legacy - the one he forged through decades of public service and combat duty in Vietnam - will live on long after his death. It will remind us that once upon a time there was this city called Washington where people went to accomplish great things. They were far from perfect but that didn't stop them from reaching for the stars.

As a nation we have had our ups and downs. We've endured the shame of slavery and taken steps to end racism, imperfect though they may be. We invented the microchip and landed a man on the moon several times. We wept for our dead on 9/11 and rebuilt that which was torn down. The same head winds that swept Trump into power can also sweep him out.

It seems to me that the best way to beat a divider is with a uniter. Perhaps the death of John McCain will force us all to embrace our better angels and allow the country to exorcize the demon that has seized its collective soul.

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