The nation has said good bye to Sen. John McCain with a memorial service that got together three former presidents, scores of members of Congress, current and former world leaders and family and friends while President Donald Trump stuck to his Saturday routine — heading to the golf course.
In what should have been the role of a sitting president, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush talked of the nation’s values at McCain’s memorial service with remarks that at times seemed a clear rebuke of Trump and his brand of politics.
George W. Bush, who defeated McCain’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, recalled “a hard-fought personal journey.”
“In recent years, we sometimes talked of that intense period like football players remembering a big game,” Bush said from the pulpit. “In the process, rivalry melted away. In the end, I got to enjoy one of life’s great gifts: the friendship of John McCain. And I will miss him.”
Barack Obama, meanwhile, said he and McCain “didn’t advertise it,” but they would meet almost weekly in the Oval Office to talk about policy and also their families.
“And our disagreements didn’t go away during these private conversations. Those were real and they were often deep,” Obama said. “But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights and we laughed with each other and we learned from each other and we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other’s patriotism — or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.”
The respect of rivals.
Keep on talking, even to rivals.
That was the message of two former presidents McCain asked to testify that reconciliation, even amid the knife fight of national politics, is an effort worth making.
Trump’s absence is about more than just a personal feud between two dramatically different politicians. It shows his inability to seize the ceremonial, symbolic power of the presidency.
He did not offer any commentary on McCain’s memorial service and America will never know (until it gets leaked) whether he was watching. But during McCain’s service, a tweet from Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, which she pinned to the top of her feed, expressed the contrast with McCain.
“@realDonaldTrump ran for @POTUS ONE time and WON! Some people will never recover from that. #SorryNotSorry Yes, #MAGA.”
She appears to be alluding to McCain’s two unsuccessful presidential bids, in 2000 and 2008, but lost the general election to Obama.
Maybe that’s why McCain in his illness thought about giving one more spark of hope to the country he has helped build but that no longer reflects the values he fought for. While asking both Bush and Obama to speak at his funeral Saturday at Washington National Cathedral, he testified (as his daughter said), that “the America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.”
Sen. John McCain ended his career honorably and bravely, but with hostility from the White House, marginal influence in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a GOP public less receptive to the positions he had long embodied.
Every aspect of his weeklong memorial carried political and personal significance. And while the pairing of people who have never been close raised eyebrows at Washington National Cathedral, maybe is a sign there could be hope for our divided nation.
So let’s start by not sticking only to friendly environs, preferring the adulation of supporters to the criticism of detractors.