Donald Trump blinked. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.
He blinked because he’s a bully, and bullies, we were told as kids, are actually cowards – a theory, by the way, that in my experience hasn’t always held true. But in this case, it works perfectly.
And he blinked because — and this may be a bit of a revelation — he apparently actually understands the concept of human decency even if he routinely rejects the concept of practicing it.
He blinked on the matter of Sen. John McCain and the half-staff flag — which Trump had prematurely raised to full staff as the rest of Washington continued to honor McCain — and he blinked on the matter of his refusal to say anything remotely generous about an iconic senator who happened to be a (yes, captured) war hero.
The non-base national revulsion persuaded him to back down. Oh, and the anger directed at him from the American Legion and other veterans groups who felt that dishonoring McCain was dishonoring all veterans. You have to like the irony here, knowing that Trump has falsely accused NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem of disrespecting the flag and those in the military when, as the protesters have clearly stated, their protest is meant to bring attention to police brutality and unequal justice.
It’s a normal political move to retreat as gracefully as possible when you’ve done something to offend much of the country. But, at the risk of repeating myself, nothing about Trump is normal. And I swear I could almost see McCain wink as Trump was forced to blink.
The news has been full of talk about Trump as possibly our first president non grata, unwelcome at funerals and weddings and most places where people other than the Trump cultists in their MAGA hats tend to gather. In McCain’s final words, in a statement released shortly after his death, McCain rejected the “blood and soil” crowd. Some saw that as a veiled shot at Trump. But it was not veiled at all. It was the final shot at a demagogue who had, in McCain’s view, despoiled the office of the presidency, an office for which McCain twice ran.
It’s not that we didn’t understand Trump’s pique. He was angry with McCain because McCain has said terrible things about him, possibly in response to the terrible things Trump had said about him. Trump was angry that McCain had asked Trump not to come to his funeral and had, instead, asked Trumpian enemies George W. Bush and Barack Obama to deliver eulogies. As in Korea, there is no truce — and don’t expect one soon — between the McCain and Trump camps.
In these last few days, we have heard much about McCain as a flawed hero. McCain wrote much about those flaws himself, which is what many of us found so fascinating about him. Certainly, there’s no forgiving his pre-Trump unleashing of Sarah Palin on America. And understanding McCain’s belief in the use of America power still doesn’t excuse his cheerleading for the disastrous war in Iraq.
Democrats who at times would praise him would inevitably be disappointed because McCain, maverick that he truly was, was also a conservative Republican — remember, he followed his dramatic thumbs-down Obamacare vote with one in favor of the feed-the-rich tax cut — who often disagreed with Democrats on the most fundamental issues. And yet he was friends with Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden and Russ Feingold and Gary Hart, whom he asked to be a pallbearer at his funeral.
You can look at any conservative website to find angry posts about McCain for his support of immigration reform and his Obamacare vote and a host of other reasons.
In a fitting ending for McCain, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, suggested that the Russell Senate office building be renamed for McCain. Richard Russell, for whom it was named, was a rabid segregationist and Georgia Democrat who filibustered civil rights laws and even anti-lynching laws. He was also a powerful Democrat who mentored Lyndon Johnson.
So who do you think objects to the renaming? That’s right, Republican senators — many of them prepared to choose a Dixiecrat over one of their own. Does any of this surprise you? You might bring it up the next time a Republican tries to tell you that modern-day Democrats are somehow responsible for the Richard Russells of their day.
Trump’s path to the presidency began in his prominent role as birther, and he won running on the nativist strain much too present in America. And yet we saw McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign taking on a questioner at a town hall who had called Obama an “Arab.” McCain answered: “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with.”
Every time you watch that clip you see an implicit rebuke of Trump and, more to the point, a rebuke of Trump supporters, particularly those in Congress who should know better. The issue of the building name isn’t really McCain vs. Russell, after all. It’s McCain vs. Trump and the Republican senators’ hesitance (that’s a nice way to put it) in offending the Offender in Chief.
In a matter of two years, the Republican Party has become Trump’s party, to the eternal shame of the GOP. It’s as if Democrats had become George Wallace’s party back in the day. And, as Trump understands too well, each day McCain is honored is another day we’re reminded of what McCain stood for and who he stood against.