I hope the week-long events and media attention surrounding McCain’s funeral and burial will be an extended plea for America to put aside its current tribalism and work for bipartisanship. I’m guessing most of the many speakers will emphasis this theme, and that both Obama and Bush will hit the message hard in their eulogies (you can especially count on Obama nailing it).
I know many strongly disagree with McCain’s politics, and he would be the first to admit he made mistakes in some positions he took during his long career. But this isn’t about his political stances, it’s about his conviction that we can disagree without hate and animosity, and that our government has to function on compromise.
Perhaps the large number of politicians in attendance at these upcoming events will not only hear the message, but be inspired and transformed by it. Will it result in change? I dunno.
But John McCain himself opened up the first salvo by not inviting Trump to any of the major events that will receive enormous attention and worldwide press coverage this week, but he also did so posthumously in releasing a “final message” to the American people today.
I hope you will read it in full, but I wanted to highlight the parts that I hope become the dominate theme this week of every kind word said about him.
In the message, McCain bemoans our political party “tribal rivalries” that we “mistake for patriotism,” and explains that we weaken our role in spreading and protecting democracy around the globe “when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”
And then he says this:
Oh, how we need to be reminded of this right now—that no matter our party affiliations, most of us truly love our country. All of the tribal blowhards on both sides do nothing but vilify their political opponents, paint the other side as unpatriotic, or depict them as only desiring their own personal or group power.
As McCain said in his last floor speech, “to hell with them.”
Listen, we all want America to be great. No matter our skin color, religion, or ethnic background, most of us love our families and friends, and we want them to be safe, have better wages, better schools, and better healthcare. It’s just that we have different ideas about how we obtain those things.
But if we can just start, as McCain said, with the “presumption that we all love our country” and thus stop seeing our political opponents as evil, bad people that are out to harm America, we can start to listen to each other and find where we agree, where we can compromise, and where we can work together.
That’s what our Founders had to do, and what they created our system of government to accomplish. As I tell my students all the time, our Republic is a product of compromise, meant to facilitate compromise.
When our system failed to keep us united, the result war a Civil War that nearly divided us in half and gave us one million casualties. I think there’s a lesson there.
Look, we all know working with our political rivals isn’t easy. It never has been. But it is never going to happen if we keep thinking about and describing our political opponents as hated enemies that MUST be crushed and annihilated. We’ve got to stop thinking that our way must be wholly triumphant, without compromise and without the influence and ideas of the other side.
Let’s be honest, in some ways, to larger or small degrees, we are all probably guilty of demonizing those with different beliefs than our own. And we all want to see our candidates and ideas win.
But aren’t we better when we all win?
We are going to see the video a million times this week of McCain giving a thumbs down to the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. But let’s remember why he did it–because the bill was hastily constructed just to defeat the enemy and not an honest effort at bipartisanship. And lets also notice that when he did it, some Democrats started to cheer as if they had just scored in a football game. But Schumer very quickly waved them off and stopped them.
Let’s have more of both of that.
This isn’t a football game with clear winners and losers. Winning requires us ALL to win, and the only way that happens is if we move forward. The hatred and animosity that tribally divides us only produces gridlock, and in that case, we ALL lose.
The current generation of politicians in DC and elsewhere is largely infected with this tribal disease. I wouldn’t mind seeing us getting rid of almost all of them.
I pray we start listening to pundits and politicians that eschew language that demonizes the opposition, divides us, and plays on fear. Let’s turn to the ones that use inclusive language, that refuse to paint our opponents as unpatriotic, and that whole hardheartedly promise to work with, rather than destroy those across the aisle.
Hopefully we will all do a little soul searching.
Call me a dreamer, but like John McCain, I have faith in what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.” Perhaps the eulogies this week will call us back to them.
“Do not despair of our present difficulties,” McCain said in his last message, “but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender.
We never hide from history. We make history.”