Editor’s note: The majority of us here at Liberal Resistance regard John McCain as a good and honorable man—particularly in contrast to Donald Trump. But, it is important to note that there is another viewpoint, one also represented among our writers, which sees him as being basically indistinguishable from Trump. Among those of us who feel this way is our U.K. correspondent, Luke Haines. In the interest, then, of full representation of all legitimate points of view on the matter, we present the following.
I know we all remember the night Trump got elected. Some of us haven’t stopped screaming or banging our heads against walls since. Nonetheless, this seems like a good time to bring it up again, if there ever was such a thing, because of important advice we gave ourselves.
When Trump got in, the evidence rapidly began to stack up that our worst fears were confirmed – he was never going to rise to the occasion of his office, and his whole presidency was going to be the embarrassing, incompetent shitshow we all predicted. As Trump continued to spout ludicrous, racist, petulant nonsense whilst hiding behind social media like a teenager instead of, y’know, doing his fucking job, we told ourselves that we should never forget that This Wasn’t Normal.
Unfortunately, the greatest strength of human beings is also our greatest flaw – we’re very adaptable. Whilst this has allowed us to make huge leaps of progress, it also means we quickly become accustomed to things like political corruption or environmental disasters.
As if to guard against this process, Trump continues to mine the bottom of the barrel – we still realise what an odious, racist shitheel he is as he throws ever bigger tantrums commeasurate with the size of his revealed crimes. Nonetheless, this ongoing slide into the abyss seems to have subtly moved the needle of “normal” in a worrying direction.
Consider the weird resurgence of George W. Bush. Since Trump took office and brought literal fascism into American government, a lot of people have said that Bush wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
George W. Bush, a man whose hands are stained crimson with the blood of millions of Iraqi civilians, and thirty five thousand dead or injured US soldiers, is now remembered fondly.
George W. A man who presided over the flooding of New Orleans and then did jack shit about it while American citizens died, is somehow morally superior to Donald Trump, who just did the exact same thing in Puerto Rico.
George W. Bush, who was so stupid that his malapropisms adorned millions of college walls in poster form, isn’t so bad compared to the current idiot who thinks “bigly” is a word.
George W. Bush, who was born into enormous wealth and privilege and used it to avoid combat duty in Vietnam before going entirely AWOL for the tail end of his service, is somehow preferrable to President Bone Spurs.
Dubya, whose Vice President was in bed with Halliburton and who did less to combat climate change than your average tyre fire, is not as bad as “climate change is a Chinese hoax” Trump.
Bush Jr., who stole the 2000 election with help from cronies, should be seen as a better option than Trump, who conned his way to the presidency and still lost the popular vote by three million.
To be clear, because apparently people have short memories: ALL THESE CONSERVATIVE FUCKS ARE AS BAD AS EACH OTHER.
I would probably prefer to be stuck in an elevator with George Bush over Donald Trump, but that’s about the only scenario where I can see a clear reason to prefer one over the other.
Of course, the internet loves Bush because he does cute, gif-able things like sneaking candy to Michelle Obama.
Where was he caught doing this? At a funeral for the apparently-now-canonised John McCain.
For those who don’t remember McCain too clearly, he was an American pilot who crashed more planes than he shot down (three crashed American planes compared to two bombed enemy MiGs, fact fans) before being captured and tortured in Vietnam. Like Tony Stark, his experience in captivity gave his life purpose, except that instead of becoming Iron Man he got serious about sticking it to his 4-star father and so came home, abandonned the recently-disabled wife he had constantly cheated on and married into a powerful Arizona family who would help him become a senator.
This maverick, loner politician (who was born into wealth and privilege as John McCain III and who had strings pulled for him by his powerful father to keep him from being expelled from Naval school, and later to get him into the National War College) always stuck to his principles, like when he opposed oil drilling and Republican tax policy whilst running for president. Then he failed at that and figured “screw it,” running again as a pro-oil drilling, tax-cuts ahoy candidate.
McCain’s only true principles boiled down to “do what benefits John McCain,” and because journalism in the Western world is a god damned shambles, everyone believed the lie that McCain was a morally upright maverick without ever noticing that the person who wrote that version of history was McCain himself.
John McCain was once called a liar by no less a figure than Karl fucking Rove, who said the claims in the McCain-Palin ads from 2008 “went too far.”
Even in the current climate of remembering McCain as a hero, one of the most commonly cited examples of his honourable nature is the time a woman said that Barack Obama was an Arab. “No ma’am,” McCain replied, “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.”
This is only a noble response until you think about it and realise that John McCain apparently didn’t think Arabs could be decent family men or American citizens. Perhaps this was why McCain opposed Martin Luther King day as late as 1989, although it still wouldn’t explain why he was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for a group that sponsored an anti-gay-rights ballot initiative in Oregon in 1993.
In an ironic twist, it wasn’t just blacks and gays McCain worked against – he was very proud of striking down catastrophic health insurance for seniors in 1989, which may have come back to haunt him when he got brain cancer in his eighties.
McCain allowed his pursuit of power to override his vaunted morals with laughable ease. He lost the Republican nomination in 2000 and then hired many of the same people who had smeared him in that campaign to be part of his team for 2008. Just like Trump is now supporting Ted Cruz, or like Mitt Romney knuckled under and kissed Trump’s ring after the fat dotard insulted his wife.
I don’t know how many times the lesson needs to be repeated: These people are all as bad as each other. They don’t give a fuck about anything except being rich and powerful and staying that way. Every single one of them would blow Donald Trump in a New York minute if it guaranteed that they could cling to their money and influence forever.
This is not to say that the Democrats are much better – Obama was at McCain’s funeral but not Aretha Franklin’s because he knows which asses are worth kissing, Bill Clinton is a rapist and his wife seems to be fine with that – but at least the Dems do SOME good whenever they’re in power.
The truth is that whilst the current administration is unusually horrible and Not Normal, America got used to a form of politics that wasn’t normal decades ago. Since the so-called Gingrich revolution, and arguably since Reagan, Republicanism is a cheap con based around false morality and dedicated only to avarice. It’s killing America and the planet at large. It’s never been “normal,” but it has always been pointing in the direction of the pit in which we now find ourselves.
Digging ourselves out of that pit is going to require genuine good morals, not the hollow, performative kind of John McCain. We need to remember who the bad guys are when they show their faces, and we need to never let them off the hook. There’s no use saying that Trump is bad when we then turn around and fall over ourselves trying to forgive war criminals like George W. Bush. Speaking of war criminals, Henry Kissinger spoke at John McCain’s funeral. If that’s not a damning indictment of a man’s character, I don’t know what is…
Luke Haines is a British writer who would recommend reading Rolling Stone’s piece on John McCain from a few years back before you jump all over him with “respect for the dead.” Follow him on Twitter as @lukedoughaines