Littwin: The president who loves to wrap himself in the flag trips over it this time

The White House in Washington DC in 2012. (Photo by Paul Arps via Flickr:Creative Commons)

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.


  1. We’ll see what kind of obituary you write for G.W. Bush, Mike. My guess is that it won’t be nearly as flattering as your obit for McCain because he was a GOP loser: McCain lost against your Lord and Savior Barry Soetoro (peace be upon him), thus he’s a great guy in the Democrats’ book. G.W., OTOH, won against the Idiot Gore (W. done solt the election!) and won’t receive any gushing reviews when he croaks no matter who’s in the White House.

  2. Why in the world would you ever think the second least popular president in modern history would get “gushing reviews” from anyone outside of the Fox News Fantasy Bubble?

    The guy was appointed after losing the popular vote, presided over Katrina, produced the start of great recession and attacked the wrong countries in a spectacular failures after responding to the greatest defensive failure in modern history.


    I was no fan of McCain. The Palin nom sold the collective Republican national soul for an alliance with the bigots and rubes that brought us Comrade Chump, but with that said, it’s not tough to see the difference between he and Deferment W or Cadet Bonespurs.

  3. Anybody who praises McCain as a hero is in the same camp as those who still believe it was 19 Saudi’s w/magic box cutters that took down 3 steel framed buildings with 2 airplanes in NYC on 911. He was a traitor, a liar and a thief. Not only was he responsible for a fire on the USS forestall that killed many and almost destroyed the ship, his nickname in nam was songbird, and the only reason he stayed is because it marked his end if he did. Then there was the Keating 5 scandal, and all the wars his sorry ass pushed over and over and over. But old habits die hard huh Mike? You couldn’t tell the truth if somebody laid it out for you and strung you along its path.
    You do know about admiral McCain (Johnny’s daddy) and his covering up of Israel’s deliberate attack on the USS liberty don’t you?
    Well there’s your dose of truth for the day. Wake up fool and join your fellow American’s in sharing it, otherwise your guilt by omission will end you up in the same place the p.o.s. McCain is headed.

  4. Wow Joe Sef Stalin, quite a rant there ol’ comrade, ol’ buddy. I just read in the New York Times how much Putin hated McCain. Guess you’ve done your duty for Mother Russia now. Here’s the facts on the Forrestal accident, not that you care about facts:
    On 29 July 1967, a fire broke out on board the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. An electrical anomaly caused a Zuni rocket on a McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom to fire, striking an external fuel tank of a A-4 Skyhawk. The flammable jet fuel spilled across the flight deck, ignited, and triggered a chain-reaction of explosions that killed 134 sailors and injured 161.
    McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was also struck by the F-4B Phantom’s missile.

  5. The repub haters who come to these comment boards are a SAD example of what is wrong with this country.

    Jus’ sayin’

  6. True. Brain lapse. That’s what old age does to you. I fixed it. Thanks so much for reading and noticing.

  7. You’re right. I won’t write the same kind of obituary about W, who was a terrible president, but it has nothing to do with whether he won or lost, which is an absurd proposition. I also won’t write the same kind of obituary about Romney or Bush Sr. Nor did I about Ford.

  8. What’s really going to bother you when you’re closing your eyes tonight, Byron, is the fact that the majority feels the way we do. Not just in America, but most of the rest of the developed world as well.

    Just one guy talking, but maybe you should consider that it’s you and your ilk, the vocal minority, who are what’s “wrong” with this country.

    It’s really a division that began during the Vietnam years that just never went away.

    There’s an excellent documentary by Ken Burns about Vietnam that really explored the fracture that took place, and which remains a chasm to this day.

    The rest of us have made the imperfect leap away from the elements of bigotry, racism and fascism that have plagued our country for decades.

    The trick to the jump seems to lie in the possession of two distinct abilities.

    1. The ability to accept facts, no matter how inconvenient or at odds with your current viewpoint,

    2. The ability to recognize BS for what it is.

    I for one am excited, for in this day and age of instantaneous information, it’s quickly becoming an easily apparent act of willful ignorance to not make that leap. It’s almost as if you can spot examples of this by the hats they wear…

    I for one welcome you with open arms….and open books.

  9. I’m curious as to how people purposely kneel when the flag is being respected isn’t disrespecting the flag. It’s akin to refusing to stand when a judge enters the courtroom and then insisting you aren’t showing disrespect when you purposely sit on your butt as a form of protest.

    They chose the anthem time for a reason. This isn’t random. They chose to sit out a gesture of respect for the flag.

    What does it take to state the obvious, Littwin?

    And birtherism? Liberals did it in 2008 to McCain and the media were silent, so spare us the selective outrage.

  10. Byron we conservatives flock to comment sections on news sites because we’re locked out of journalism nearly to a man. That’s why when the Denver comPost whines about not getting enough support via subscription, we flood the comment sections with complaints that we’re not going to subscribe to a paper that deals in political hit pieces and slants every topic that pushes liberal buttons. The comPost is clearly not capable of even-handed reporting and like the rest of the media, chooses to schmooze with endless feel-good appeal to pity stories about the latest illegal alien hiding in a church over discussing the negative impact of illegal and mass legal immigration on the US working class, especially low skilled Americans. Liberals have their favorites, and with that comes the hierarchy of favored causes, and illegal aliens are far more important than low skill US workers whose voices are increasingly ignored and if those workers are white, they’ll be smeared as “nativists” (hint, Littwin), xenophobes, and bigots for their non-compliant insolence.

    That’s what happens when journalism has been corrupted by an activist class that is weaned in schools not in logical thinking, critical reading and persuasive argumentation, but rather in Jenny’s 3 moms, privilege-checking, SJW drum beating, and is taught outright that on the job activism is a legitimate behavior. We now have a large group of journalists – especially under the age of 40 – that know far more about neo-Marxist social theory than they do about source quality, objective writing, and basic journalistic ethics.

  11. Such big straw men! Should we be afraid or mad or both?

    Remember kids:

    1. The ability to accept facts, no matter how inconvenient or at odds with your current viewpoint,

    2. The ability to recognize BS for what it is.

    I guess the other option is wearing a tinfoil hat and ranting in comments sections about “neo-Marxist social theory”….

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