Donald Trump’s name was not uttered during the late Sen. John McCain’s memorial services, but the subtexts didn’t seem especially subtle.
John McCain’s daughter opened his memorial service by posing her father’s legacy as a direct challenge to President Donald Trump, setting a tone that echoed the senator’s own fighting spirit as former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush eulogized him Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral.
Bush and Obama, both challenged by McCain in their bids for the White House, drew on the senator’s legacy at home and abroad to talk of the nation’s values in remarks that at times seemed a clear rebuke of Trump and his brand of politics.
Some of the rhetoric was direct. Meghan McCain, for example, said to applause, “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”
Others preferred insinuation. “So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, tracking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Barack Obama said. “It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born in fear.”
The list of related rhetoric, from Democrats and Republicans, was not short. Every time a speaker would take the time to celebrate enduring American principles often tied to the late senator – honor, dignity, character, heroism, a willingness to sacrifice – we were reminded of the fact that no fair minded observer will ever use such words to describe the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Politico reported that people close to the president “fumed” during the event, and “grew angry” in response to criticisms.
I’m not in a position to say with certainty which of the eulogists’ comments were intended as anti-Trump and which were merely perceived as such. But consider the severity of the rebuke that so many of us – presidential supporters and detractors alike – effortlessly associated pro-American principles as ruthless condemnations of the president.
Indeed, this keeps happening. Last year, on the 4th of July, NPR published a series of tweets with the text of the Declaration of Independence – infuriating Trump fans who assumed the phrasing from the document attacking King George III was actually an attack on the president.
Several months earlier, Barack Obama spoke at an event at Pearl Harbor and told attendees, “Even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.” Trump, naturally, assumed the Democratic president was directing the comments at him.
Longtime readers may recall an incident from early 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security released reports about ideological extremists, alerting law enforcement officials to potentially violent groups and organizations. Republicans and conservative activists were apoplectic – even though the report was commissioned by the Bush administration – because much of the right feared that concerns about dangerous radicals might apply to them directly.
In effect, the right heard officials’ concerns about potentially violent, hate-filled militants, and responded, “Hey, that sounds a bit like a description of me.” The controversy, such as it was, ended up saying more about the conservatives who whined than the law-enforcement officials who prepared the report.
Nearly a decade later, John McCain’s friends, relatives, and compatriots gathered to say their farewells, and in the process, they contrasted the late senator with small, weak, and dishonorable cowards who fail to appreciate core American principles.
What does it say about Donald Trump that everyone assumed they were referring to him?