Five days ago we received the news we knew was coming but didn’t want to hear: Senator John S. McCain III died of brain cancer. By any account Senator McCain stood for the best of what our nation stood for.
He was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 because his father, John S. McCain Jr, served there in his career in the Navy.
Because both is father and grandfather graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland it was assumed he would attend there also. He graduated in 1958, placing nearly at the bottom of his class.
Nobody would expect Lt. McCain to have much of a military career but he did. In 1967 he flew a mission during the War in Vietnam and was shot down and taken prisoner. His captors soon learned he was the son of a 4 Star Naval General and offered to send him home as a tactic to appear humane. Lt. McCain, in a phenomenal act of courage, refused their offer unless all the POW’s were released. In the 5 1/2 years between that offer and the end of the war he was tortured beyond what most of us can imagine. Because of this torture he spent the rest of his life not being able to raise his arms above his shoulders. He couldn’t even comb his hair.
He came home in 1973. After all he had been through we all could have understood if he had spent the rest of his life seeing this torture as an excuse for avoiding responsibility and blaming others.
But John McCain chose a different path. He didn’t blame his government for sending him to Vietnam, he didn’t blame his captors for their torture, he didn’t blame his country for the horrible treatment Vietnam veterans endured when they returned.
Instead he ran for Congress. In 1982 the good people of the 1st District of Arizona sent him to the House of Representatives and in 1986 the state of Arizona chose him to replace Senator Barry Goldwater as a Senator. He ran for President in 2000 and 2008, losing to George W. Bush and Barach Obama.
Senator McCain was a Republican and held different views on many issues. But those of us who found a different path to American greatness nevertheless respected him even if we didn’t agree with him. Patriotism does not depend on agreement as it much as it depends on love for our nation.
Fair winds and following seas.
Almost since the beginning of President Trump’s administration I’ve argued that he has shown a lack of respect for the office of president. Beginning with George Washington, our 1st President, all occupants of the Oval Office have recognized the power of the the office and their responsibility to act in the best interest of our nation. Simply put, the first 44 Presidents have known that they work for the American people, the American people do not work for him.
Until now. I’ve spoken before about how President Trump is a fascist who believes that we are his servants and (to quote French King Louis XIV (1638-1715), I am the state (or in French, “L’etat, c’est moi”).
His lack of respect for his office, or for that matter, the American people isn’t simply an inconvenience: he is causing real and lasting damage to our nation that will take a long time to fix.
In fairness, he’s done some things that won’t need to be fixed or will be easy to fix. The president has broad powers to pardon those convicted of federal crimes. As of today you can see a list of those he has already pardoned. I don’t agree with all of them, but these pardons don’t do any real damage to our nation.
Many of us worry about Mr. Trump’s eagerness to impose tariffs to protect American jobs and his false belief that we can win a trade war. In reality nobody wins a trade war and as I write this we are looking down the barrel of a nasty recession that will be caused by his protectionism. But the next President will have broad authority to repeal these tariffs and get us back on track.
But other of his moves will be harder to fix:
- He Moved Our Embassy From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: When the state of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948 they declared their capital as Jerusalem. At the time it was a partitioned city. Israel occupied the western half of the city and Jordon occupied the eastern half. When Israel occupied the whole city after the Six Day War in 1967 Israel began to pressure us to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And while American politicians have made promises to move our embassy, common sense has prevailed. Until now. Make no mistake: we are strong allies with Israel. But their occupation of East Jerusalem (and the whole of Israel) displaced Palestinians and enraged several Arabian countries. In the last several decades the United States (and much of the world) has encouraged Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians to develop a two state solution that would go a long way toward ending the conflict. Many of us imagined that when this happened we could move our embassies to both East Jerusalem (serving Israel) and West Jerusalem (serving Palestine). Because Mr. Trump has moved our embassy to Jerusalem he has removed a major incentive for Israel to work for this two state solution. Simply put, he has made peace in the Middle East dramatically harder. The next president will not easily be able to move our embassy back to Tel Aviv and it weakens our ability to broker long term peace.
- His Opposition to Diplomacy is Crippling Our State Department: Mr. Trump does not like diplomacy and has shown his contempt for the State Department. He famously quotes Roy Cohn (1927-1986): “When the hit you, hit them back harder.” His first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was chosen because of his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Tillerson didn’t last long because, much to Mr. Trump’s horror, Mr. Tillerson actually tried to do his job. Mr. Tillerson’s fate was sealed when it became clear that he called his boss a moron. But during his time at State, Mr. Tillerson made it clear that anyone hoping to make a career in the State Department needed to look elsewhere. This led to resignations of long term employees and the refusal of good candidates to even apply for jobs. It’s often said in the military that we hire 2nd Lieutenants now because in 25 years we’ll need Generals. In other words we need to hire today for tomorrow’s leaders. But Mr. Trump’s war on diplomacy today will create a vacuum in the State Department long after he is out of office and likely dead. Second Lieutenants need 25 years experience to learn how to be Generals and entry level State Department employees need 25 years to learn to be ambassadors. The damage done to the state department will be felt for a generation.
- Likewise He is Damaging Our Intelligence Service: We are protected by several agencies, among them are the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Council and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (my apologies to anyone I missed). We have a tradition in this country that law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies investigate wrongdoing whatever, whoever, and wherever and are free from partisanship. Again, they work for the American people and not the president. And again, this president doesn’t understand this. Because of the committed men and women in the agencies, we’ve known even before the 2016 election that Russia attempted to interfere with our democratic process. And they succeeded: they wanted to discredit Hillary Clinton because they wanted Mr. Trump to win the election. Every agency who has looked into this has concluded that they at least attempted to interfere. But Mr. Trump, seeing that this interference, continues to deny that it even happened. That’s right: last month he chose to believe Vladimir Putin’s denial over the evidence of the intelligence community. I guess there’s honor among liars.
- He Has Made Xenophobia, Racism, and Mysogyny Great Again: This section could last for volumes. I first called him out on his racism at the beginning of his campaign where he called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. His call to build a wall between Mexico and the United States (and not between Canada and the United States) shows this isn’t about immigration but skin color. During the campaign Candidate Trump was called out by Megyn Kelly for calling women fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.; he responded by attacking Ms. Kelly. All this has given a green light for others to do the same. The respected journal Scientific American (hardly a journal with an agenda) showed a correlation between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and anti Muslim behavior. Prejudice once stirred is not easy to tamp down, and we can expect this behavior for a lone time to come.
- Finally, He Wants Us To Ignore Truths That Place Him In a Bad Light: Much like the man who is caught cheating by his wife and says: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Mr. Trump wants us to believe him over what we know to be true. This past weekend his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani famously claimed that truth isn’t truth when asked why, if the President has nothing to hide, doesn’t he appear before Robert Mueller’s commission. But there’s more: Last month Mr. Trump spoke to the VFW and said this: “But remember, they have the biggest, best, strongest lobbyists, and they’re doing a number. Just stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people — the fake news.” By the way, I got this quotation from the White House web page. But here’s the thing: he’s trying to tell us that only he and his people are trustworthy and everyone else is “fake news.” And when he does this he is attempting to discredit our justice system. Trust in our government took hits 35 years ago after we learned that we had been lied to about Vietnam and Watergate and in some ways we’re still dealing with this. But Mr. Trump’s attempts to leverage this mistrust to save his own skin not only discredits hardworking, honest members of our government, it creates suspicion going forward. It makes their job more difficult the next time they need to investigate wrongdoing.
Our role here is clear: We the People need to gather, not in support of one man or one party, but to the truth. The men and women who devote their lives to ensuring justice, from the local sheriff to the Attorney General, need and deserve our respect. Starting now.