On Aug. 25, America said goodbye to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The country reflected on his trials and triumphs, commending him for his valor during the war in Vietnam and years of service in Congress. The impact of his death was far-reaching; it transcended age, status and political ideology.
But, as we recount the story of a life that will no doubt be told for generations, a question arises: How did he do it?
In today’s politics, few people could garner the reverence from supporters — and opponents — that McCain has attracted in the days since his passing.
Democrats and Republicans alike should strive for McCain’s level of grace, bravery and willingness to stand out from the crowd. Regardless of political views, the country as a whole seems to agree on one thing: McCain was a hero.
He had a clear distinction between right and wrong — a trait often lost or overlooked amidst the caustic partisanship of 21st-century political discourse. Up until the bitter end, McCain did what he thought was right, a characteristic often lacking in modern American politics.
McCain demonstrated this when he went against most of his party to vote no on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in July 2017, according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). In the face of extreme pressure from the White House, his party’s leadership, and even Republican voters, McCain refused to yield, and in the end, went the way his conscious took him. Whether his vote was right or wrong will always be debated by the pundits; what is not up for debate, however, is the strength of McCain’s convictions and the resolve of his morality.
“All of a sudden he pointed to the two of us and said ‘You two are right,’” Collins said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Once John McCain made up his mind about something, there was no shaking him. And I knew that he would be there on the final vote.”
In a political climate increasingly dominated by party loyalty, the commitment to morality demonstrated by the late Senator has become a sort of rare commodity. Those who knew McCain’s politics knew he would seldom vote for something he didn’t wholeheartedly agree with, a notion that seems to have all but disappeared from Congress.
In the days since McCain’s death, one video from his campaign against Barack Obama has gone viral for the second time. In the video, a woman at a campaign rally for McCain says she can’t trust Obama because he’s — as she puts it — an “Arab.”
McCain responds calmly and respectfully, repeating “No, ma’am. No ma’am,” defending Obama’s values and character despite the two men’s hard-fought presidential campaign.
“He’s a decent family man (and) citizen that … I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about,” McCain responded.
What happened to the Republican Party between the 2008 presidential campaign and the one that put Trump in the White House?
Among numerous other things, Trump was known for his disdain for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential Election. Presidential debates and Trump’s infamous Twitter feed were filled with wild accusations of covered-up emails, taunts of “nasty woman” and calls to “lock her up” — a marked contrast to McCain’s defense of his opponent in the heat of a bitter campaign.
As he himself was keen to note, McCain’s campaign experience was far from perfect — U.S. News reported in 2008 that one-third of McCain’s advertisements were “negative” against Obama — his tactics were much less abrasive than what we’ve seen from Trump, even while his running mate, Sarah Palin, often invoked the kinds of racially-tinged invective Trump readily employs. Unlike many elected officials today, even those in the highest levels of our government, McCain stayed largely true to his steadfast moral compass.
McCain suggested Obama and former President George W. Bush, his rival in 2000 Presidential Primaries, say the eulogies at his funeral. To think that highly of two opponents who defeated you takes a level of integrity not many people have, and once again McCain’s dedication to morality is shown by ignoring party lines and requesting Obama.
McCain also requested Trump’s absence at his funeral. The two conflicted publicly for years on politics and politeness, and it was clear McCain simply didn’t believe the President was worth the respect to be present at his funeral.
In the time since McCain’s death, our country has done some serious reflection on the course of our politics and society. Losing a standout politician like McCain is jarring, but the public and politicians alike can respect his memory by striving to be more like him, regardless of political affiliation.
We should all learn something from McCain’s ability to not only see the difference between right and wrong but exercise it, whether it be on the Senate floor or in our own homes.
For students specifically, McCain can serve as an example of someone who saw his youth as an advantage. He answered a call to service when he enrolled in the Naval Academy at age 18. And he spent the rest of his career fighting for American values.
Current Loyola students going out into the world from 2019 to 2022 should see him as a model just as much as people closer to his own age. In any field, we should all bring McCain’s convictions to our own work. We should all strive to be a McCain type of maverick.