Monday, September 3, 2018

McCain presided over 'the biggest resistance meeting yet'

In The New Yorker, Susan B. Glasser observes that John McCain’s Funeral Was the Biggest Resistance Meeting Yet. Two ex-Presidents and one eloquent daughter teamed up to rebuke the pointedly uninvited Donald Trump. A few snippets will suffice.

Donald Trump’s name was never mentioned. It didn’t have to be. The funeral service for John Sidney McCain III, at the Washington National Cathedral, on this swampy Saturday morning, was all about a rebuke to the pointedly uninvited current President of the United States, which was exactly how McCain had planned it.

Of course, there were fulsome tributes to Senator McCain’s bravery and courage and public service, stark reminders of the torture he endured as a prisoner of war, and of the policies he fought for (and against) in his many decades as a Republican politician from Arizona. But McCain knew that would not be the headline from the grand service, whose many details he personally oversaw. This was to be no mere laying to rest of a Washington wise man, nor just another funeral of an elder statesman whose passing would be marked by flowery words about the end of an era. It was a meeting of the Resistance, under vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows.

This was made clear a few minutes into the two-and-a-half-hour service, when McCain’s daughter Meghan, weeping at times, called it a funeral for nothing less than “the passing of American greatness” that her father represented, and not the “cheap rhetoric” that now passes for it. Later, her voice breaking, she said, “The America of John McCain does not need to be made great again, because it is already great.” Her eulogy was then interrupted by applause, the first time I have heard such a thing at a funeral in that great, cavernous, and sombre Episcopalian hall. She hadn’t uttered the name of the “President Non Grata,” as the Washington Post recently referred to Trump, nor did she need to. Midway through her remarkable speech, a pool report from the White House was released. Trump, wearing a white “Make America Great Again” hat, and having tweeted his morning complement of bile, directed at Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, and his own Justice Department, had departed to play golf.

[snip] …

A few minutes after the service, when the talking and singing was over and the bipartisan establishment flowed back into the humid swamp outside the cathedral, I ran into Jeff Flake, McCain’s fellow-senator from Arizona and, like McCain, one of Trump’s few remaining public critics among Republicans on Capitol Hill. “The fever will break eventually,” Flake said. “It has to.” It was an oddly optimistic thing to say at a funeral, and, when he said it, it hardly sounded convincing.

But I imagined that it was the prayer voiced silently by many of those in the room. I thought back to the beginning of the service, when the choir had sung the beautiful words of the Navy Hymn: “Oh Holy Spirit, who didst brood upon the chaos dark and rude and bid its angry tumult cease and give, for wild confusion, peace; oh hear us as we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!” I have heard those words at many funerals before, but never did they seem to speak to the room in quite the same way.

Given the attendance by Trump’s relatives and sycophants, Ivanka, Jared, Bolton, Kelley, Glasser wondered:

… All eyes were on them, and, after the service, that is much of what the buzzing knots of people outside the cathedral talked about: What were they thinking as they heard the speeches? Why did they come? Were they embarrassed? Ashamed? Should they be? They should not be under any illusions, and I imagine they weren’t: this was a room full of people who hate much of what their boss is doing, and that they are letting him do it. Was a tax cut for the wealthy worth it? A few dozen judicial appointments and two Supreme Court seats?

But the eulogies of three of those Trump loyalists attending the funeral triggered a caustic response from Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post: Three men unfit to eulogize John McCain.

… You had to control your gag reflex watching Vice President Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) extol McCain’s greatness as he was accorded the honor of lying in state.

Consider Pence for a moment. He began with a ludicrous declaration that broke all records for disingenuousness: “The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office. It’s my great honor to be here.” President Trump despised McCain and routinely mocked him. …

To call McCain a hero is to recognize his heroic qualities, of which Trump has none. You can worship Trump or admire McCain; it’s metaphysically impossible to do both. Meghan McCain’s glare was an appropriate reaction to Pence’s hypocrisy.

McConnell acknowledged McCain as a “generational leader in the Senate.” McConnell said that McCain represented all the values the Capitol stands for. But what does McConnell stand for? He has accommodated Trump, ignoring or rationalizing his worst behavior. McConnell personally destroyed the comity in the Senate by denying Judge Merrick Garland a hearing and then extinguishing the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. He has refused to protect the rule of law by preventing a bill protecting the special counsel from reaching the floor. In short, he too is everything McCain is not, and has presided over the very changes in the Senate that McCain despised. …

And then there was Ryan, come to pay his respects. When he repeated McCain’s admonition that “our identities and sense of worth were not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves,” you wondered whether Ryan is capable of self-reflection. He lauded McCain: “The sense of purpose that a battle joined can bring. The common humanity that burns in each of our hearts… . This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced.” When exactly has Ryan exemplified those qualities? When has he demonstrated an ounce of courage to do what is right rather than expedient?

… Instead of the causes dear to McCain — the rule of law, simple decency, the obligation to defend the country against abuses of power — Ryan has again and again taken the road of least resistance. He is quite simply a moral coward.

I suppose having this trio speak was the trade-off for allowing McCain to lie in state. In singing his praises, however, they demonstrated just how small, how weak they are. In the shadow of a giant like McCain, they should feel a pang of shame.

On the other hand, think of how difficult this must have been for them. After all, McCain was the guy who doomed ACA repeal with a simple thumbs-down gesture.

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