Katy Burns: McCain towers above a president with no decency

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. on Oct. 29, 2008. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/24/2019 12:30:48 AM

When Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy was at the height of his red-baiting power, he savagely attacked at a televised public hearing a young lawyer who in his school days had briefly flirted with a left-wing organization. It was a brutal example of the way the demagogic McCarthy abused his high office.

And he was stopped cold by respected Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, who was the Army’s lawyer at the hearing. “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?” the distinguished barrister asked. A shamed McCarthy had no response.

That rebuke is still known today – Google it and watch it yourself – and is widely viewed as a pivotal moment in McCarthy’s downfall.

I’m reminded of that now by the current occupant of the White House. Donald J. Trump clearly has no sense of decency.

If there were any doubt about that – and for many of us there isn’t – Trump demonstrated it last week with his nonstop disparagement of senator John McCain. The late senator John McCain, who died seven months ago after a valiant battle against brain cancer.

That’s the same John McCain who served his country in the Vietnam War and ended up – after he was shot down – as a prisoner of war, frequently tortured by his captors, for five years. The effects of torture continued to give him pain every day for the rest of his life.

He went on to serve honorably in the United States Congress, the last 29 years as a senator from Arizona, and he twice ran, unsuccessfully, for president.

And it’s worth noting that while McCain was being tortured in a North Vietnamese prison, Trump – having escaped the draft himself because of “bone spurs” in one of his feet – was spending his evenings living the high life in New York’s fashionable night spots.

Later, he boasted to shock jock Howard Stern that – because he had managed to avoid sexually transmitted diseases while sleeping around New York – “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

Disgusting, yes, unless you’re a man who has no shame, which our president most assuredly is.

Trump has for years made no secret of his contempt for the Arizona veteran and senator, perhaps because McCain’s life of service was such a stunning contrast to Trump’s own self-centered and self-serving existence.

And the fact that McCain is dead, has been for seven months, didn’t end Trump’s enmity. On at least four occasions last week alone he went out of his way to disparage McCain and his service.

Perhaps the worst was when, addressing a crowd of workers at a tank factory in Lima, Ohio, Trump – in what the Washington Post described as “a five-minute diatribe” – argued that McCain “didn’t get the job done” for veterans and, weirdly, griped that he, Trump, didn’t get proper gratitude for McCain’s funeral in September.

“I gave him the kind of funeral he wanted, which as president I had to approve,” Trump said. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a thank-you, that’s okay. We sent him on the way. But I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”

This – except for the fact that he really “wasn’t a fan” of McCain – was, like so many of the president’s utterances, a lie.

The funeral arrangements were made in advance by McCain himself and his family. Those arrangements were approved, where they had to be, by the Pentagon and by the Congress. If the president “approved” anything, it was for military transport of McCain’s body from Arizona to Washington. And I suspect he had nothing to do with that, either.

But – predictably – Trump couldn’t bear that the spotlight was briefly on another (and infinitely better) man, so he had to insert himself into the conversation – by disparaging the late congressman, demonstrating once again his lack of decency.

My husband, Don, and I admired John McCain even if we didn’t share his politics. We voted for him in the 2000 primary – convinced he would be a better president than George W. Bush – and my husband gave him a healthy contribution.

In his 2008 campaign, Steve Duprey – his indefatigable champion – brought him to the Bow fire station, and we joined the crowd. As it ended – when Steve was trying to hustle McCain to another meeting – Don introduced himself and mentioned that his stepbrother Bill had been the senator’s classmate at the U.S. Naval Academy.

McCain stopped in his tracks and grinned. “Bill? Bill is a great guy.” He reached back into his memory and talked about a prank the two young midshipmen had shared, asking us to give Bill his best.

It said something to us that John McCain would interrupt his campaign to take a few minutes to remember an old friend. Something good. McCain was, above all, human.

Trump’s disparagement of McCain was too much for Jennifer Rubin, the conservative – and acerbic – Washington Post columnist, who quoted a Republican senator on the subject.

“It was left to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to condemn Trump,” Rubin wrote. She quoted him: “I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better, I don’t care if he’s president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us.”

And Duprey – a longtime Republican National Committeeman and in many respects the voice and conscience of the New Hampshire Republican Party – got the last word, as reported in the Monitor, sharply criticizing the Republican president.

“President Donald Trump isn’t worthy to carry even John McCain’s navy cap,” Duprey wrote on Facebook. “In no measure is he the patriot or public servant that John McCain was. Ever.”

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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