OPINION: Dear Mr. President, leave John McCain alone

By on March 26, 2019

President Trump just can’t give it a rest.

Nearly seven months after John McCain succumbed to brain cancer, the commander in chief has decided to reignite his feud with the deceased war veteran.

McCain has long been the subject of Trump’s ridiculous tirades, but the President’s most recent statements and attacks on Twitter have reached a bizarre new low.

On March 16, Trump quoted Ken Starr on Twitter, writing, “Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier ‘is unfortunately a very dark stain against John McCain.’”

He followed it up by retweeting a woman claiming, “We hated McCain for his ties to the Russian dossier & his vote against repealing Obamacare.”

The president likes to pretend his antipathy towards McCain is the result of his vote against one of the GOP’s ObamaCare replacement bills or the fact that he turned over the unverified Steele Dossier to the FBI. In reality, Trump is haunted by the memory of a true American hero and his renewed attacks are just red meat for his base.

Not everyone has to like McCain or agree with his politics, but we have a responsibility to be decent and respectful at a bare minimum. Trump and McCain seldom agreed with each other, and that should’ve been okay.

Instead, Trump has shown this week that he lacks the basic human decency to let things go and leave McCain to rest in the peace and dignity he so deserves.

Throughout his life, McCain selflessly served his nation and showed incredible courage in captivity. He was a giant on congressional oversight of federal agencies. He was open and honest in his battle with cancer. He was a man who will be remembered for reaching across the aisle.

McCain’s ObamaCare repeal flip-flop and handling of the troubling Dossier are undoubtedly worthy of criticism, but adults should be able to discuss things like adults. President Trump has degraded the acceptable level of rhetoric to an irredeemable standard.

Yes, McCain campaigned on repealing and replacing ObamaCare – just not the way Trump wanted to do it. Republicans had ample time to come up with an alternative solution but failed to provide a comprehensive free-market healthcare plan. It was all “repeal” without the “replace.”

Trump’s disdain for McCain began long before he entered office, however, because McCain had pegged Trump for what he was.

During the early stages of his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump belittled the senator’s service in the Navy by dismissing his time as a captive of the North Vietnamese as a failure. Trump infamously declared McCain was not a war hero, adding “I like people who weren’t captured.”

But while Trump (who has never served in the military) was dodging the draft with claims of “bone spurs,” McCain was flying combat operations in Vietnam and fighting on behalf of his country.

As a prisoner of war, McCain was regularly beaten, tortured and starved for almost six years, yet he never blinked or wavered in his devotion to the United States.

Again in May 2018, The Hill reported that White House staffer Kelly Sadler allegedly mocked then-ailing McCain, saying his opinion about CIA Director Gina Haspel “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.”

The White House never condemned Sadler’s remarks, sending a clear message that the Trump Administration has no problem pushing people to the side once they become sick or “too old.”

Trump’s continued attacks on McCain will never alter the legacy of service and integrity he leaves behind. His thinly-veiled onslaught is nothing more than a reminder of the president’s own lack of character.

“I was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be,” the President told reporters in the Oval Office, doubling down on his claims.

If Trump has nothing but disparaging things to say about a beloved POW, he should refrain from saying anything at all. When a president wages war with a departed war hero, it’s simply for attention.

I implore the President to honor the late senator’s memory by focusing on the future of our country, rather than dominating the news cycle with his resentment and stale talking points. Trump claims he’s simply answering reporters when he criticizes McCain, but we all know Trump has no problem ignoring questions he doesn’t like. It’s 100 percent intentional.

Spend some time focusing on real issues, Mr. President. Talk about tax reform or immigration or foreign policy. Talk about the shooting in New Zealand or border security. Leave John McCain’s name out of your mouth.

Adding insult to injury is just par for the course in Trump’s playbook, though. We would be spinning our wheels if we held out hope that one day Trump would decide to simply take the high road. On March 20, Trump further complained to a crowd at an Ohio event.

“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as President, I had to approve,” Trump said. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a ‘thank you.’”

Trump’s claim was instantly refuted by a spokesperson for the Washington National Cathedral the following day.

“Washington National Cathedral was honored to host the funeral service for Senator John McCain. All funerals and memorial services at the Cathedral are organized by the family of the deceased; only a state funeral for a former president involves consultation with government officials,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill on March 21.

McCain received the funeral he earned and deserved, full stop. Not everything is about Trump, and nobody in the McCain family owes him a “thank you.”

To the Republicans in Congress who have remained silent in the wake of the President’s attacks understand that history will look on this moment. Your spineless silence has enabled President Trump to cheapen the dignity of the White House.

We can debate about politics until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, character and morality still matter. Trump claims to be a counter-puncher, but repeatedly throws punches at a dead man and his grieving family. Continuing to attack an American war hero when he’s no longer here to defend himself is worse than distasteful – it’s classless.

John McCain was a man of service, a man of country and a man of integrity. He would get a kick out of the fact he’s still managing to piss off Trump posthumously.

McCain’s widow, Cindy, recently shared on Twitter just one example of some of the violent and threatening messages she’s received against her and her family over the past week, including a message telling her daughter Meghan to “choke to death.”

I can’t help but think to Melania Trump’s “Be Best” initiative, which aims to combat cyberbullying. Although I would never directly blame the president for the words of others, the fish stinks from the head. Trump ought to take the first lady’s advice and devote his attention towards setting a better example.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) summed it up best on Twitter: “There is just no reason to be talking about Senator McCain after he has passed. He is not your political enemy, Mr. President.”

President Trump has picked a fight with a dead man and lost. McCain may not have been a saint, but he was a brave and patriotic man. Hitting him when he can’t hit back is revolting.

When all is said and done, Trump’s words will always reflect more on Trump himself than they ever will on John McCain. May he rest in peace.

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