Amy Roberts: With John McCain’s passing, we mourn more than a man
The past few days have produced no shortage of inspiring and heartbreaking words describing Senator John McCain’s life. “War hero,” “patriot,” “courageous,” “kind,” and “maverick” have been appropriate and common themes. I don’t pretend to have followed his life or career closely, but when his brain cancer diagnosis was announced a little over one year ago, I began to pay more attention. It’s a disease deeply personal to me — my sister battled it for almost nine years before passing away in November of 2016. Irrespective of differences in age, gender, social and economic status, or political affiliation, when I learn of someone being diagnosed, there’s an immediate kinship of sorts. You’re both members of a club no one wants to be in.
I never met Senator McCain, nor did I ever vote for him. So this column is not the result of a chance meeting, long conversation, or friendship with him that resulted in some life changing moment for me. Just respect. And a slight understanding of the hell he and his family went through the minute a doctor said, “glioblastoma.”
The tributes these past few days seem to go beyond mourning a decorated public servant. Much of what I have read and heard feel far deeper than the passing of a person. They hint at the idea we are also mourning the loss of any expectation or hope for civility, respect, and bipartisanship on the Senate floor.
By all accounts, John McCain was a politician who understood that “compromise” isn’t a dirty word. He understood you can vehemently disagree with someone and still be their friend, or at least be decent towards them. And he understood that sometimes the hard thing and the right thing are the same thing. This was most memorably displayed when 11 days after undergoing brain surgery, McCain defied his doctor’s wishes and flew to Washington to cast his vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. His emphatic thumbs down was a gesture heard around the world, with many of his fellow conservatives offering a symbolic hand gesture of their own in response.
Regardless of what you think about healthcare reform, you have to respect someone who refuses to succumb to political pressure and is willing to fight for a cause bigger than himself. That’s never easy. And it’s a hell of a lot harder less than two weeks after a craniotomy.
Perhaps this is why his passing feels so personal to so many. McCain reminded us it’s more important to be a voice than an echo. The American political system has become so “us” versus “them” the “we” has been all but lost, and winning at any cost has replaced the idea of ensuring a fair fight. But McCain reminded us that we are all on the same team, and being respectful towards someone you disagree with is not a character flaw.
He embodied that concept often, most memorably at a town hall prior to the 2008 presidential election when he grabbed the microphone from a supporter who said she couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was “an Arab.” McCain cut her off, refusing her a platform to spread a lie and went on to defend his opponent, calling him a decent man.
Fewer than 10 years later, this basic act of decorum seems completely foreign. It’s hard to imagine the current president demanding the truth and refusing to allow a perceived insult continue. Trump hasn’t even summoned the decency to acknowledge McCain’s legacy or contributions to the country. The president’s response to the senator’s death was an emotionless Tweet and a photo of himself posted to Instagram. Further proof money doesn’t buy class.
While reverence in politics has been on the critically endangered list for some time, John McCain’s passing seems to confirm it is now officially extinct.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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